The Six Harmonies Pagoda
"...And if I only could, I'd make a deal with God, and I'd get him to swap our places, be running up that road, be running up that hill, be running up that building..." - lyrics by Kate Bush from "Running up that Hill"
During my travels, I come across many towers, from tall monumental television towers to slightly shorter and older ones like the copulas of European cathedral towers. For many people, climbing to the top of these towers offers a sense of calm and comfort, as when the character of Tilda Swinton in "I am Love" visits the rooftop of the Duomo in Milan to find a peaceful moment to gather her thoughts after discovering her daughter is in love with another woman. Personally, I never found any joyful purpose in climbing the towers. Contrarily, finding myself on top of these towers appears highly common, and physically exhausting: unlike hiking up mountains.
My recent visit to the beautiful Qiantang River area in China swayed my snobbish beliefs about climbing towers. My visit was about discovering the famous Six Harmonies Pagoda in Hangzhou. Here, I learned to climb up and experience what others have endured and cherished for centuries.
Constructed in the Wuyue State during the Five Dynasties Period (907-960), Six Harmonies is named after the six Buddhist ordinances. The reasons for building the pagoda were to calm the tidal bore of the Qiantang River and to act a navigational tool. Like many of ancient architectural sites in China, the pagoda was destroyed and reconstructed numerous times.
Viewed from outside, the pagoda appears to be layered, bright on the upper surface and dark underneath: a harmonious alternation of light and shade. Octagonal in shape, the pagoda rises 196 feet in height, almost a thirteen-story structure in a Western sense, but it has only seven interior floors. A spiral staircase leads to the top, and each of the seven ceilings are carved and painted with figures, including animals, flowers, birds, and characters. The pagoda is in excellent proportion, complimented with perfectly framed views of the Qiantang River and its surrounding landscapes as seen through each opening as one ascends. Perhaps the pagoda was a precise reference to other pagodas that came throughout the history of China and its neighboring countries, like Korea and Japan.
Being of considerable size and scale, one can see the pagoda from far away. It adds to the picturesque views of the Qiantang River landscape, completely detached from contemporary skylines of nearby city like Hangzhou. Although Six Harmonies is stunning from the outside, you must climb up the zigzag stairs: it is definitely worth the effort to experience perfectly harmonious ancient Chinese architecture. Take it from a non-believer in tower climbing.