Xiaonanmen Bell Watch Tower / 小南门警钟楼

In the old city of Shanghai, I visited the Xiaonanmen Bell Tower. The structure of the tower is an interesting mixture of concrete and steel forming an arch: it directly relates to the Eiffel Tower.

According to online reports, this Bell Tower was built in 1909 by Shanghai City’s firefighters’ association. It used to be the tallest building in the old city (35,2 meters high).

Historical photo of Xiaonanmen Bell Tower (internet sources)

It was also Shanghai’s earliest modern fire control structure: it allowed to watch the area and in case a fire started, it was able to be quickly noticed by the guard who would ring the bell to alert the firefighters. But this place also played a part in the revolution against the Qing empire. In 1911, revolutionaries tolled the bell to call on Tongmenghui (同盟会)1 members – an organization which had been moved from Tokyo to Shanghai – to start the uprising against the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

An official sign indicates that the building was registered as protected architectural heritage in 2005.

Looking up, Xiaonanmen Bell Tower, May 2017
Looking down, Xiaonanmen Bell Tower, May 2017
Control room, Xiaonanmen Bell Tower, May 2017

On top of the tower, where two birds live but where I could not find a bell, one can realize how Shanghai grew vertically: the tallest building in the old city is now surrounded by high-rise towers.

View from the top, Xiaonanmen Bell Tower, May 2017

What was really interesting about this place was how the architecture of the tower integrates with other buildings such as Shanghai typical residential houses. There are many ongoing daily activities of inhabitants at the bottom of the tower; for instance, as this visit happened just before the Dragon Boat Festival, women were preparing large quantities of « zongzi » (glutinous rice pastries) in the yard.

Daily life in the yard, Xiaonanmen Bell Tower, May 2017
Last vision in the late afternoon, Xiaonanmen Bell Tower, May 2017
  1. Tongmenghui, or Revolutionary Alliance, was founded in 1905 by Sun Yat-sen in Tokyo. It was formed by the merging of several secret society organizations such as the Xingzhonghui (Regenerate China Society), the Guangfuhui (Restoration Society), the Huaxinghui (Prosper China Society), and other groups.

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