The first place I visited in Beijing was the Forbidden City. From my hotel it was about a 15 minute walk to Tiananmen Square, the main square in front of the Gate of Heavenly Peace and the main entrance into the palaces area. The smog was heavy so I couldn’t even see all the way across the vast square.
Pedestrians are subject to bag x-rays and metal detectors before entering Tiananmen Square and it was here that I got my first taste of how the Chinese queue up; spoiler: they don’t. Thankfully, I’m big and intimidating and foreign looking so most people gave me a wider berth than I think they normally would. After about 10 minutes getting through the “line” I was in Tiananmen Square and headed to the ticket office for the Forbidden City.
The Forbidden City is overwhelmingly large, consisting of one large palace after another. Mostly built in the early 1400’s, the entire complex consists of nearly 1,000 buildings.
I sprung for the audio tour and was glad I did as there were very few signs and fewer still were in English. It was a Sunday morning and the crowds were thick but the place is so enormous it was easy to move around without too much trouble.
The palace complex consists of a series of gates and squares built around a series of palace halls. The most important palace halls are built along a central axis. From the first gate (The Meridian Gate), I proceeded along the central axis through enormous courtyards and high, intimidating gates to the Palace Of Heavenly Purity.
This is the innermost building, where Emperors resided during the Ming and early Qing dynasty. During this time, access to the Palace of Heavenly Purity was strictly controlled and only the Emperor and a select few ministers and servants were allowed anywhere near the palace. From the late Qing dynasty onward, the palace was redeveloped into a banquet hall where the Emperor would receive guests and emissaries.
In the afternoon, I headed north to Beihai park. A former imperial park, it consists of an island (Jade Flower Island) in a lake called the Northern Sea. Like many imperial parks, it was built as a replica of a rural Chinese landscape and was a welcome respite from the crowds in the Forbidden City.
On day two, I hopped on a tour bus and headed to the Great Wall of China. It was awesome. Here’s a picture I took.
My last full day in Beijing was spent at the Summer Palace. Located about 15 miles from Central Beijing on Lake Kunming, this is the site of several palaces, pavilions, and a large Buddhist temple built on Longevity Hill. The hill itself is about 200 feet high and completely man-made. Similar to Beihai park, the parkland around the Summer Palace are a replica of rural China.
Also part of the complex is the curiously named Marble Boat. Not really made of marble but painted to look so, this version was built in 1893 at a time when China was intending to build an imperial navy. Rumor has it that most of those funds were re-directed for use in building this one boat.