This splendid fortification, with a green-tiled, twin-eaved roof rising imperiously south of the Ancient Observatory, dates to the Ming dynasty. Mount the battlements for views alongside camera-wielding Chinese trainspotters eagerly awaiting rolling stock grinding in and out of Běijīng Train Station. Make sure to hunt out the signatures etched in the walls by allied forces during the Boxer Rebellion.
You can make out the name of a certain P Foot; ‘USA’ is also scrawled on the brickwork. The international composition of the eight-nation force that relieved Běijīng in 1900 is noted in names such as André, Stickel and what appears to be a name in Cyrillic. One brick records the date ‘Dec 16 1900’. Allied forces overwhelmed the redoubt after a lengthy engagement. Note the drainage channels poking out of the wall along its length. You can reach the watchtower from the west through the Railway Arch, which was built for the first railway that ran around Běijīng.
The watchtower is punctured with 144 archers’ windows, as well as two forlorn stumps of flag abutments and a cannon or two. Attached to it is a 100m section of the original Inner City Wall, beyond which stretches the restored Ming City Wall extending all the way to Chóngwén Mén and north to Beijingzhan Dongjie. Inside the highly impressive interior is some staggering carpentry: huge red pillars that are topped with solid beams surge upwards. The 1st floor is the site of the Red Gate Gallery, one of Běijīng’s long-established modern art galleries. The 3rd-floor gallery has a fascinating photographic exhibition on the old gates of Běijīng, while the 4th-floor gallery contains more paintings. Say you are visiting the Red Gate Gallery and the ¥10 entry fee to the watchtower is normally waived.