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The Forbidden City, Beijing
The Forbidden City
The Forbidden City, lying at the heart of Beijing, is one of China's most impressive sites to visit. Serving as the imperial palace during the Ming and Qing Dynasties, the Forbidden City stands today as the largest and best-preserved grouping of ancient buildings in the country. For over 500 years, the Forbidden City was off limits to anyone but the imperial family and those serving them — thus the name — but today it welcomes visitors from all over China and the world.
What to See
A tour of the Forbidden City will most likely take a whole day — possibly even several days. There are many impressive structures to see inside the walls of the Forbidden City. Just a casual walk from the main entrance in the south to the exit in the north of the compound, with pauses for pictures and viewing the main sites, will take some time. If you really want to explore the more intricate details, you'll need to allow two to three days at the least.
Some of the main things to observe as you make your way through the Forbidden City include:
1. Various gates, including the Meridian Gate in the south, the Divine Gate in the north, and the Gate of Supreme Harmony that overlooks a huge courtyard
2. Hall of Supreme Harmony — the largest and most important structure inside the walls of the Forbidden City, home of the Dragon Throne
3. Hall of Middle Harmony, just behind the Hall of Supreme Harmony
4. Hall of Preserving Harmony, where many generations of young, hopeful Chinese men sat for the Imperial Exams
5. Palace of Heavenly Purity and the Hall of Union, lying just behind the three "Harmony Halls"
6. The Imperial Garden — 7000 square meters of classical Chinese gardening
7. The Hall of Mental Cultivation and the Yikun Palace — both of these halls are amongst the most authentic rooms remaining in the whole complex, meaning they are a little worn, but all the more worth seeing for that
These structures all lie along the north-south axis that defines the Forbidden City. Along the edges, you can also visit various rooms that once served as living quarters, libraries, temples, entertainment centers, and gardens for the imperial family. Many of these structures now serve as mini-museums to highlight specific aspects of the royal life during the Ming and Qing eras. Worth visiting are the Clock Exhibition Hall, the Hall of Jewelry, the Hall of Joyful Longevity, the Hall of Character Cultivation, and the Changyin Pavilion. If you have plenty of time, it is worth making your way slowly through all of the structures along the perimeter of the Forbidden City, discovering the little treasures housed in each.
Also worthy of note at the Forbidden City is the moat which encircles it. Made as another security measure to keep the imperial family safe, the moat also served to beautify the surrounding area, for the earth excavated in the construction of the moat was used to create Jingshan, the man-made hill to the north of the Forbidden City. As you walk northward in the Forbidden City, Jingshan comes more and more clearly into view, creating delightful scenes to take in from the various terraces inside the imperial grounds.
The hill was originally thought to protect the imperial city from the evil spirits lying to the north — which is also why buildings in China have always traditionally been built with a south-facing entrance. Today, the hill serves as a nice spot to scale for the sake of the panoramic views it offers of the Forbidden City.
©2010 Shelly Bryant
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