Every day, the Gulou area is abuzz with trendy young folks who flock there to buy kitschy-cute trinkets, test out electric guitars, sit in modish cafes, or catch rock concerts. Gulou translates to "drum tower", one of the landmark buildings that anchors the neighborhood. But ask around, and you'll find that only the tiniest fraction of people there have actually entered either the drum or bell tower for which the area is known.
The two buildings are both situated on Beijing's central north-south axis, sandwiched in between Tiananmen, the Forbidden City and Jingshan Park to the south, and the Olympic Village to the north. The drum tower is the fatter building, whose red paint makes it look as if it were renovated yesterday. The bell tower on the opposite side of the courtyard lays bare its naked stones, its taut figure drawing the eye up toward the shadows to where the bell is concealed.
Both towers introduce themselves with a long steep staircase, and offer enlightening perspectives on the city and the surrounding historic hutong alleyways.