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Traveling To China : The Forbidden City
The Forbidden City
Historic Places to Visit in China: The Forbidden City
Any tourist visiting China should consider the Forbidden City a must see historical attraction. Located directly in the center of Beijing, the Forbidden City, built from 1406-1420 (rebuilt in the late 1640s after its destruction by foreign invaders) was the imperial palace for much of the Ming Dynasty (r. 1368-1644) and all of the Qing Dynasty (r. 1644-1912). During these times the Forbidden City was the home of emperors, their concubines, and was also the center of political activity for the government as a whole. In total, the Forbidden City was the home to 24 emperors. Occupying a space consisting of 980 buildings while covering 7,800,000 square feet, the Forbidden City is fit for an emperor whose culture believes in the “Mandate of Heaven”. This mandate was applied to emperors during China’s long illustrious imperial period. It states that the emperor must take direction from heaven, if it was determined that the emperor failed to do this, he was overthrown. This system of government, though considered obsolete in modern times, was the foundation for all governing bodies that operate under the idea of checks and balances. After all, it was believed that only the ethereal was above the emperor. The Forbidden City, during the times in which it was operational was considered by the Chinese to be the center of the universe. In 1987 the Forbidden City was placed on the World Heritage Site list. Moreover, it is listed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as possessing the largest collection of maintained ancient wooden structures in the world. As of 1925, the entire Forbidden City has been under the control of the Palace Museum. This museum, the actual Forbidden City itself, holds a fascinating collection artifacts and artwork that date back to the Ming and Qing Dynasties. However, a portion of the former collection was moved to the National Palace Museum in Taipei, Taiwan shortly following the Chinese Civil War which ended in 1949. The Forbidden City, gigantic in size, and rich in content, makes for a rewarding, and educational experience for all those who visit it.
Night Scene of Forbidden City
Things to See and Do While Visiting the Forbidden City
The Forbidden City can only be seen in its entirety by way of a guided tour. Conveniently, a tour bus picks up visitors at their hotels twice daily at either 8am or 1pm. Though the cost of the tour is quite expensive, it is worth every bit of the cost. A guests travelling alone is charged $115USD; although, the rate is cheaper when travelling with others. For groups of two to five people, each person is charged $75USD; groups consisting of six to nine people are only charged $45USD per person. There are no further discounts offered for those groups that are made up of ten or more visitors. Some may complain about the price of the tour in relation to the value of the Chinese Yuan verses the American Dollar. Although, it should be noted that these costs include a pick-up service from any Beijing based hotel which is performed via an air-conditioned tour coach or car. Also, the tour guides are excellent English speakers who are extremely knowledgeable about anything having to do with the Forbidden City and its surrounding areas. These sorts of commodities are not easy to find in most of China. In a historic, pristine, and gigantic area such as the Forbidden City, it is important for the caretakers to maintain all visitors in an orderly fashion at all times to help preserve the well-being of the Imperial Palaces and everything else housed within the Forbidden City. All guests begin in the famous Tiananmen Square; from there they enter the city through the southern gate known as the Meridian Gate. For an American to understand how gorgeous this gate is he or she should imagine the gates found in any Chinatown located in major American cities and multiply its beauty by at least twenty times; it is truly a sight to behold. As the space inside the Forbidden City is so massive, and of course outside, it is hard for some to hear the tour guide well; guests are offered a tape and a tape player that can be listened to on headphones. This is particularly ideal for any visitors that may be hard of hearing. These tapes are available in many languages.
Palace Meridian Gate Dusk
The Outer Court
Once inside the walled Forbidden City, visitors walk over one of five small bridges that extend over a stream that consists of crystal clear waters. While noticing the former residences of those who were close to the emperor, visitors continue walking northbound until they reach the Hall of Supreme Harmony, here guests find themselves in an area known as the Outer Court as well as Tianhedian Square. While standing in this square, visitors find themselves in between the Tower of Enhanced Righteousness to the left and the Tower of State Benevolence to the right. Both of these buildings are picturesque; and like all other structures within the Forbidden City are of 17th century Chinese architectural design. While progressing northbound the guided tour continues until it reaches the Hall of Supreme Harmony. This beautiful building is where the emperor attended lavish ceremonies sometimes while conducting the affairs of the state. Continuing the tour, visitors are then greeted by the Hall of Central Harmony. This area is where the emperor rested prior to attending ceremonies or dealing with state affairs. This hall is located directly in the center of the Forbidden City and was therefore thought to be the exact center of the universe. Emperors rested here before having to make decisions because they believed that by doing this they were bringing themselves closer to heaven and therefore were more likely to be at their greatest, making the best decisions possible. Once leaving this hall guests arrive to the Hall of the Preserved Harmony, this structure was primarily used for banquets. However, during the Qing Dynasty it was mostly used for imperial examinations. These exams were essential in the Qing’s idea of forming a merit based system. Very few succeeded at these exams as they were extremely difficult. Due to their degree of difficulty it was felt that these tests should be taken in the most harmonious place possible. Once departed from the Hall of Preserving Harmony, tourists will notice a large block of marble that has cloud and dragon designs carved into it. Continuing forward, guests are then greeted by another gate; this one is known as the Gate of Heavenly Peace. This is the entrance to the area considered to be the Inner Court; here is where the emperor spent the majority of his time
The Forbidden City
Hall of Supreme Harmony
The Inner Court
There are three major palaces as well as six other palaces on each the eastern and western sides of the Inner Court. The twelve structures located on either side were mainly used to house concubines and eunuchs. The three major palaces are known in order of appearance as the Palace of Heavenly Peace (not to be confused with the gate of the same name), the Palace of Union and Peace, and the Palace of Terrestrial Tranquility (oftentimes referred to as a gate). The Palace of Heavenly Peace was where the emperor slept. Located directly behind this palace is the Palace of Union and Peace, it is here where the highly important imperial seals were kept safely. Finally, the Hall of Terrestrial Tranquility is where the emperor held his weddings. Continuing on the tour, visitors come upon the Imperial Garden. This well maintained beautiful flower garden is a nice change of scenery from the crimson and gray buildings visited up until this point. Passing through this large spacious, beautiful flower garden, guests begin to make their way out of the Forbidden City as they pass through the immaculate Gate of Divine Prowess. To completely exit the city visitors go through a pathway that is surrounded on both sides by the moat that encompasses the entire city. This moat is also known as the Tongzi River. The entire tour lasts for approximately three hours.
It is essential that any tourist seeing China, regardless of their passion, visit the city of Beijing. However, those travelers that are looking for a historical experience should consider the Forbidden City within Beijing as a must see venue. Though visiting the Forbidden City may not be easily achieved by those guests travelling on a budget, they would be wise to cancel any plans that send them elsewhere, thus saving money, making a trip to the Forbidden City possible. Regardless of its higher cost, the Forbidden City is heavily visited by travelers who leave with a sense of satisfaction.