Beijing: The Forbidden City

Exploring Asia Overview
Cathay Pacific B777-300ER Business Class San Francisco to Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Lounge Review: The Cabin at HKG
Cathay Dragon A330-300 Business Class Hong Kong to Beijing
Lodging Review: Regent Beijing Hotel
Beijing: Dongcheng District
Beijing: The Great Wall
Beijing: Run-ze Jade Garden
Beijing: The Sacred Way of the Ming Tombs
Beijing: The Legend of Kung Fu
Beijing: Tiananmen Square
Beijing: The Forbidden City
Beijing: Hutong Tour via Rickshaw, Tea Tasting, Flying to Xi’an
Lodging Review: Hotel Shangri-La Xi’an
Xi’an: Qing Dynasty Terra Cotta Warriors
Xi’an: Tang Dynasty Dinner and Show
Xi’an Wrap-Up, Flying to Lhasa, Lhasa Home Visit
Lodging Review: Shangri-La Hotel Lhasa
Lhasa: Jokhang Temple and Barkhor Market
Lhasa: Canggu Nunnery and Sera Monastery
Lhasa: Potala Palace
Leaving Lhasa and Flying to Chongqing
Viking Emerald
Shibaozhai Temple
Cruising the Three Gorges
Three Gorges Dam
Jingzhou City Walls Tour
Wuhan: Hubei Bells Performance and Provincial Museum
Shanghai: Shanghai Museum
Lodging Review: Fairmont Peace Hotel, Shanghai
Shanghai: Old Shanghai and Yuyan Gardens
Lodging Review: The New Otani Tokyo Hotel
Tokyo: City Tour
Mt. Fuji and Hakone Tour Returning by Shinkansen
ANA Suites Lounge Review, Tokyo Narita
All Nippon Airways B777-300ER First Class Tokyo Narita to Houston

We approached the Forbidden City from Tiananmen Square via a tunnel that crosses under the busy street running between the two sites. After seeing the way people drive in busy sections of China, I was very glad we didn’t have to dodge any cars!

The Tiananmen Gate faces the square of the same name and is the main entrance

The palace is the former seat of the throne of Imperial China which began with the Ming Dynasty in 1420 and lasted through the end of the Qing (“ching”) Dynasty in 1912 – nearly 500 years. It was both the home of the emperor and his household and the ceremonial and political center of the Chinese government. If you’ve seen the movie The Last Emperor starring John Lone, it was the first feature film ever authorized by the PRC to be filmed inside the Forbidden City.

An ornamental column with the dragon facing out, waiting for the emperor to return

The name “Forbidden City” is a translation of its Chinese name that literally means “Purple Forbidden City”. The purple would refer to the North Star which in Chinese astrology refers to the heavenly abode of the Celestial Emperor and thus the emperor’s residence is its counterpart here on earth.

It is a massive complex of over 980 buildings covering over 180 acres. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world.

The moat is diverted to create a stream running through the grounds.  This stream is called the Golden Water:

A view from one of the bridges over the Golden Water

Though the design of the walls and the buildings were different, the general flow of the buildings reminded me a bit of the Topkapi Palace complex in Istanbul: Entering via a gate into a courtyard, then through another gate into a courtyard and so on until finally reaching the family quarters at the far end. I guess it’s not surprising as Topkapi was built a few decades after this palace so it’s very possible this was a tried-and-true style of the times.

The Meridian Gate is now the site of the ticket counter

This is the Hall of Supreme Harmony is the largest surviving wood structure in China. It was here that the Emperor held court though in its later years as court was held more often, a less grand location was used instead. By then this hall was used mostly for ceremonies including coronations and imperial weddings.

The Hall of Supreme Harmony

This is throne in the Hall of Preserving Harmony, which was used for rehearsing ceremonies and was where imperial examinations, to see who was qualified to become members of the bureaucracy, were held.

Throne in the Hall of Preserving Harmony

There were several interesting sculptures around including Cranes and the Bixi Turtle like we’d seen the day before at the Sacred Way of the Ming Tombs:

Crane Sculpture

Bixi Turtle

And we saw at least a few things that we didn’t know what they were for but they looked interesting:

Maybe for keeping water hot?

I have no idea what this is for!

The corners of most of the roofs have a line of statuettes featuring a man riding a phoenix followed by an imperial dragon. The number of statuettes indicates how important the building is. The Hall of Supreme Harmony had 10, the only building permitted to have so many during imperial times.

Statuettes on the Roof

This is the throne in the Palace of Heavenly Purity, which was initially the residence of the Emperor but during the Qing dynasty became the Emperor’s audience hall.

Throne in the Hall of Preserving Harmony

Toward the back of the complex was the residence of the Empress.

The Dragon (Emperor) and the Deer (Empress) outside the residence of the Empress.

A glimpse into the Palace of Earthly Tranquility, the residence of the Empress

In the Imperial Garden were a number of rocks worn by water over time, making for some interesting art pieces.

A pagoda in the Imperial Garden

The moat is 171 feet wide and 20 feet deep.

The Tongzi Moat

The walls are 26 feet high and over 28 feet wide at the base though they taper to just under 22 feet at the top. Their core is rammed earth with layers of baked bricks on both sides.

Walls of the Forbidden City

We were thrilled that the rain finally let up when we were about halfway through the tour. We didn’t get to visit any of the internal exhibits of jade, porcelain or artwork but it was enough to soak in all the parts we did see. My pictures don’t come close to doing it justice – it’s just a vast, amazing place.

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Categories: Asia, China, River Cruise, Tours, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Viking | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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