Beijing Forbidden City
Besides its massive scale and historical significance, the Forbidden City strikes the imagination by its design. Its clear lines, perfect proportions, and dramatic color scheme of vermilion walls, white marble terraces and staircases and brilliant yellow-tiled roofs - create one of the world's most beautiful architectural complexes. It was built along a meridian line, from the Dragon's throne, an axis can be drawn directly south through the many gates, right through toQianmen and on. From his northern seat, the emperor could symbolically survey his entire kingdom. Taking all this in requires time, at least 3 hours, and a comfortable pair of shoes. The English audio tour is highly insightful and features the suave voice of Roger Moore of James Bondfame. Readers interested in the Forbidden City's past grandeur should watch by Bernardo Bertolucci, a film that was largely shot on location.
The main entry point for the Forbidden City is the Meridian Gate which is a ten-minute walk due north from Tian'anmen Square, don't confuse Meridian Gate with the the Gate of Heavenly Peace, above which hangs Mao's portrait. The "Son of Heaven," as the emperor was called, would come to the Meridian Gate to review armies and announce the new calendar. As you walk through Meridian Gate, know that in imperial times you would have been guilty of a capital offense as only the emperor could use this central archway. Officials and royal family members had to employ the side passageways.
Emerging from the Meridian Gate is a courtyard bisected by a canal in the shape of a bow that's spanned by five marble bridges. On the far side of the canal is the Gate of Supreme Harmony, which opens up to a second gigantic courtyard that held audiences of 100,000. On the north end of that courtyard is the first of three great ceremonial halls, the Hall of Supreme Harmony. This is where the Emperor read important edicts, celebrated his birthday and appointed military leaders. Inside the hall is an elaborately decorated throne flanked by cloisonne cranes (symbolizing longevity) and gorgeous columns carved with dragons.
The second ceremonial hall, called the Hall of Middle Harmony, was used by the emperor and his ministers as a staging area to prepare for official ceremonies. Directly behind it is the Hall of Preserving Harmony Where Qing dynasty New Year's Eve banquets were held. This edifice was also used as an imperial examination hall for top scholars seeking official positions.
After passing the Hall of Preserving Harmony, some visitors pause over a cappuccino at the Forbidden City's Starbucks while others meander eastward in an area that served as the quarters for imperial attendants, including, at one point, an estimated 70,000 eunuchs. There are signs pointing towards the Hall of Clocks and Hall of Jewelry where antiques are exhibited. Due north the Hall of Preserving Harmony is the Inner Palace, a series of elegant buildings and courtyards where the emperor lived with his family and concubines. In addition to a throne room and nuptial chamber, the buildings include libraries, temples and a theater. At the northern end of the compound is the delightful Imperial Garden with gnarled cypresses, scholars' rocks and pavilions. Reflecting their separate purposes, the Garden and the Inner Palace were built on a far more human scale than the grandiose ceremonial halls: the former were designed for the emperor's private life, the latter for his public persona as the embodiment of the state and Son of Heaven. The garden is also the only place in the palace grounds that has trees because of the importance of symbolism to the emperor. The palace grounds is in the shape of a square, think of it as a box. If the box has the Chinese character for tree inside, it becomes the character meaning imprisoned, not exactly an auspicious symbol for the emperor.
To the north of the garden is the exit via the north gate. Be sure to take in the spectacular view of the Forbidden City's moat, outer wall and corner guard towers. If you want an even better view, cross Jingshan Qian Jie and climb to the top of Coal Hill.
Admission Fee: CNY 40 (Nov. 1 to Mar. 31), CNY 60 (Apr. 1 to Oct. 31)
Opening Hours: 08:30-16:20 (Oct. 16 to Apr. 15), 08:30-17:00 (Apr. 16 to Oct. 15)
Time Needed: 3 hours
Bus Route: 1, 4, 20, 52