South Facing Gate
This is the South Facing Gate or Front Gate, a 38 metre high brick structure. It is located at Qianmen (Front Gate), south of Tian’anmen Square(Gate of Heavenly Peace Square). It is one of the few remaining gates of the city wall. It was built in 1420 in the early Ming Dynasty and renovated in 1977. In the old days, watchtowers placed at regular intervals around the perimeter guarded the wall. The double gate system played an important role in repulsing enemy attacks. If the first gate was breached, the enemy would still find themselves outside the city wall and would be fired upon from the tower over the inner gate.
The gate is a fortress-like structure, which was built for the city’s defense in 1439. It has 94 windows from which archers could shoot arrows. The tower was burned down several times before it was reconstructed in 1914. As a national relic to be protected, it has been renovated according to the 1914 plan. Tourists can visit exhibitions in the three-storey tower. The first storey describes the history of the tower and the second deals with the city gates of ancient Beijing. There are also displays of paintings and the four treasures of study in ancient China—the writing brushes, ink sticks, ink slabs and paper. The tower was opened to the public on January 21,000, adding another scenic spot in Beijing.
The front gate was the pass the emperor used for travel to the Temple of Heaven for worshipping ceremonies. Only the imperial sedans and carriages were allowed to use the gate, while funeral ceremonies and carriages were forbidden to pass here.
The most complete renovation of the ancient gate tower known as Qianmen (Front Gate) began on October 25, 2005. Heritage protection workers used modern and traditional materials to reinforce the structure, the city’s largest remaining ancient gate tower. After nearly six centuries of wear and tear, parts of the gate began to show their age. The renovation project, costing 9 million yuan (US$1.1 million) and lasting 11 months, included repairs to faded paintwork and the replacement of early 20th century cement bricks on the second floor of the tower with traditional ones. The cement bricks were placed during a previous renovation in 1915, just years after the end of the China’s last feudal dynasty—the Qing Dynasty. Since the modern bricks did not fit in with the original flavour of the gate, this time workers restored it to its former glory.
The meaning of the South Facing Gate
Zhengyangmen, which means south-facing gate in Chinese, actually comprises two gates: the Arrow Tower and the Gate Tower. The central gates of both towers opened only twice a year for the emperor’s ceremonial trips to the Temple of Heaven. Only the imperial sedans and carriages were allowed to use the gate, while funeral ceremonies and carriages were forbidden to pass here.
The project is the latest effort by the municipal government to renovate ancient structures along the central axis, which is fundamental to the layout of ancient Beijing.
Historical documents say Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty named Qiannan Street the Street of Heaven.