Here is the thing about The Forbidden City, unlike the European castles that I have visited, which can pack more opulence in a square foot than the eye can take in, what is truly overwhelming is the way that open space and size has been used create the felling of power.
The Forbidden City sits in the heart of Beijing. Built between 1410 and 1420 it was the home to 24 emperors up until the 1912, when the Emperor Puyi resigned. The grounds cover 180 acres, (which is 10 times the size of the Palace of Versailles) and consists of 9,999 rooms. It was called The Forbidden City because the only people allowed into it inner reaches were the Emperor, his concubines and the eunuchs who guarded them.
Most people (and tour groups) start their visit by entering through the Tiananmen Gate, under the watchful gaze of Mao Zedong.
|Approaching the Tiananmen Gate|
|The Meridian Gate|
|Looking back to the Tienanmen Gate|
|Taking a break waiting for tickets|
Once you have your tickets you cross through the Meridian Gate and enter a courtyard bisected by The Golden Stream.
|Bridges across the Golden Stream|
|Your author with Gate of Supreme Harmony|
|The Golden Stream|
|The Gate of Blending Harmony|
|Away from the crowd, beyond the Gate of Blending Harmony|
|The Gate of Supreme Harmony|
|The Hall of Supreme Harmony|
|Top of the Hall of Supreme Harmony|
|The Halls of Central Harmony and Preserving Harmony|
|The Hall of Central Harmony|
|Looking out from The Forbidden City with modern Beijing in the background|
|These lion heads still serve as drainage when it rains|
My trip took place during a national holiday, and the Forbidden City was packed. It was impossible to get anywhere near the pavilions in this section of the Forbidden City, so I took a different path, walking around the edges of the pavilions.From it was interesting to see some of the engineering that went into building the this palace. The three pavilions sit up on a raised platform, probably 30 or feet high. The platform is tiered and its height represents the primacy of the emperor's position in society.
|The Large Stone Carving|
Beyond the Halls of Harmony is the Gate of Heavenly Purity which led to the living quarters of the emperor and his concubines. On either side of the gate are bronze lions.
|Gate of Heavenly Purity|
The palace is filled with artistic flourishes throughout. Carved stone, painted walls, and corners of roofs have carved dragons and lions.
If you exit the living quarters to either side you will find an area with small paths that used to be servants quarters. Today they house museum and little surprises of beauty.
Leaving the Forbidden City through its northern most gate - The Gate of Divine Prowess, you will probably have a bit of a walk to get back to your tour bus. The walk is along the moat that protects the Forbidden City.
|Turret at a corner of the Forbidden City|
|Gate of Divine Prowess|
Some final notes -
If you are on a tour, you will probably have only about 1.5 hours in the Forbidden City. This makes it really rushed. I could have used 2-3 more hours and I wish that I had free time to go back.
One thing that China has learned is how to market. The Forbidden City is filled with "Museum Stores." Each one sells different goods. So don't spend all of your money in the first, and don't buy heavy things until the end of your tour.
Your tour guide might tell you not to buy here. They might tell you that they are going to take you to a market where you can get things cheaper. This would be "The Pearl Market." I would be very careful there. The goods are mostly counterfeit and expectation is that you will bargain down the price. I felt that I received very good quality at the Forbidden City and I am very happy with those purchases.