Along with the more austere Bell Tower, which stands behind it, the magnificent red-painted Drum Tower used to be the city’s official timekeeper, with drums and bells beaten and rung to mark the times of the day. Originally built in 1272, the Drum Tower was once the heart of the Mongol capital of Dàdū, as Běijīng was then known. It was destroyed in a fire before a replacement was built, slightly to the east of the original location, in 1420. The current structure is an 18th-century Qing-dynasty version of that 1420 tower.
Climb the steep inner staircase for views of the grey-tiled rooftops of the surrounding hútòng, and due south along the city's historic central axis to the pagoda that tops Jǐngshān Park (beyond this is the Forbidden City). Try to time your ascent to coincide with one of the regular drumming performances played out on reproductions of the 25 Ming-dynasty watch drums, which used to sound out across this part of the city. One of the original 25 drums, the Night Watchman’s Drum (更鼓; Gēnggǔ), is on display, dusty, battered and torn. Also on display is a replica of a Song-dynasty water clock, which was never actually used in the tower, but is interesting nonetheless.
The times of the drumming performances, which only last for a few minutes, are at 9.30am, 10.30am, 11.30am, 1.30pm, 2.30pm, 3.30pm and 4.45pm.