THE ANCIENT SECRETS OF THE FORBIDDEN CITY
I set off to see what I could find. I had put aside the first day in Beijing to wander around and orientate myself, but also knew that I was not too far from the Forbidden City. I had a map of the area I had printed off, but I didn’t know where exactly where I was as I had no point of reference. I saw an old movie a few years ago about some people from a foreign country in Peking, and in the movie it was a great honour to be invited into the Forbidden City, where the Emperor stayed at or ruled from (After some research I am fairly sure it was a movie called 55 Days at Peking). That was about as much as I knew about it before heading off.
If you look at a map of central Beijing there is big rectangle in the middle, and I assumed this was the Forbidden City. Beijing is a fairly easy city to navigate, built on an East-West, North-South axis with the streets almost parallel to each other and as they are in a grid fashion it is possible to use the sun to guide you. I knew I must have been close and pulled out my phone and checked the GPS. Not having a SIM card, I didn’t expect it to work, but I had a rough map, and it was showing me where I was. I was inside the main rectangle on the GPS. Was I in the Forbidden City? Was it covered in normal buildings now? It was a large area on the map, a little confused, I continued to head towards the centre. Looking at a map later on I was not inside the moated area, and I think the GPS gave a phony reading.
Map of the Forbidden City
Heading south, I took a right down a side street. What I noticed about the city was the number of electric bikes, like ordinary bikes, but with smaller wheels and a car battery attached. Many of the main roads have a dedicated bike lane. There was a gateway and a guard ushering me towards a payment booth. I asked the cashier if this was the Forbidden City and she nodded, I paid 2 Yuan and was in. I thought it was great value.
These little Electric powered scooters were all over the city
I walked for about fifteen minutes and came across a man-made lake, which I later discover to be one of the moats of the walled Forbidden City. When in doubt, follow the crowd and when I saw a golf cart full of tourist whiz past and I knew I was close. I entered another red, large archway and was presented with an awesome sight! A massive ‘U’ shaped courtyard with tall walls, and at 38 metres high, it is the highest point of the entire palace. It had five towers on top, with a double story pagoda type of buildings, that are copied in every China town around the world. I was at the Meridian gate,the southern entrance to the Palace Museum and full of tourists. I had arrived at the Forbidden City and it looked resplendent and magnificent.
The Meriden Gates looking North
The 2 Yuan I paid to get in, was only for an outer area and I had to pay 60 Yuan ($11) to get into the museum area, which is what the main part of the Forbidden City is called. For another 60 Yuan, I was offered to rent a virtual tour guide. Headphones attached to a MP3 like device that I suppose used GPS to know where I was and explain things to me in the language of my choice, however I declined. I found out construction began in 1406, so it has a history of over 600 years. In this time 24 emperors ruled the entire country from this location. I was in awe. The sheer size of the place is overpowering, not just the grounds (even though they are massive too) but the height of the walls.
It is quite easy to find the ticket area as it is well marked in English and they have plenty of ticket officers to ensure I didn’t wait too long to get in. I bought some water and proceeded to walk through the massive gates.
Inside the Forbidden City - The Meriden Gates looking South
Once I had passed through the long corridor I was presented with another courtyard. This one had spectacular buildings on each side with a river carving its way through the centre. It is called the Jade Ribbon River and is 2000 metres long and was used to drain away the rain, a water source in case of fires and to decorate the square. I was lucky as it was not too crowded on the day I went and there was plenty of space to walk around with endless photo opportunities.
The Imperial Palace is the largest and most complete group of ancient buildings in China which has been preserved. It embodies the fine tradition and national style of ancient Chinese architectural art. In 1961 it was listed by the state council as one of ‘the most historical monuments under the protection of the government’ and, in 1987, it was affirmed by the UNESCO onto the world heritage list. Walking straight head in a northerly direction I was looking at the Gate of Supreme Harmony, the highest ranking gate in the city, where the Ming emperors handled state affairs, listened to ministers’ reports and issued imperial edicts.
I try to imagine how it may have been centuries ago and I am thankful I have the opportunity to tour the area that was reserved for such high ranking and important people from an ancient culture. What I was astounded at was the attention to detail. Nearly every square inch of the place had a delicate carving or was painted in lovely colours. Even looking up at the roof eves or at the yellow tiles covering the structures I was amazed. Everywhere I looked was a sculpture or some marble stairs or a large vat or a sun dial. The place was littered with artifacts.
There are over 9000 bays of halls and rooms and the construction area is about 150,000 square metres, surrounded by a wall that is 10 metres high and 3500 metres long. I won’t go into the 9000 rooms here as it would bore you too death, needless to say that the area seemed never ending. As I walked towards, and then through, another ancient building, there was another one at the end of a courtyard ahead of me. It was quite a distance and I recommend comfy shoes. There are plenty of vendors selling food and drinks inside, but don’t be shy to haggle with them to reduce their inflated prices.
A large carving caught my eye behind the three-tiered base of the Hall of Preserving Harmony. It was massive and I discovered that is was 16.57 metres long, 3.07 metres wide and 1.7 metres thick! It was 250 tons heavy and carved from a single piece of large blue stone. The carving is of the mountain, sea and clouds, in which fly nine dragons, representing the emperor unifying the country. Again, I try to imagine how it was made and brought to where it now lays, but I guess when you are the emperor it is easy to make things like that happen.
On the northern end of the palace I come across several garden areas, all quite beautiful and serene. Here I was approached by an English speaking lady that had come through a locked gateway. She explained there was an exhibition of artwork that was produced by University students and wondered if I wanted to come take a look as it was free. I usually am careful about offers like this, but went along with her. She showed me the artwork which was all quite magnificent. Whether or not it was done by Uni students I don’t know, and it doesn’t really matter. When she had finished, she showed me her personal art pieces,and then the hard sell came next. I was expecting it, and have no trouble saying no, but I asked how much it was anyway. I thought it may be a good souvenir, hanging on my wall at home and would remind me of my visit to Beijing and the Forbidden City. I liked a few pieces and maybe she could sense it, but I was not prepared to pay 200 Yuan for a painting ($35). I explained they were nice, but was on a budget. I did not even haggle and she came down to 100 Yuan ($18) which was more in the price range. I agreed and she rolled it up and placed in a protective box. I don’t know if it is being scammed if you want to buy what is being sold? Maybe the price was a bit inflated, but I didn’t care, I had a great painting of a Tiger on silk.I'm a paragraph. Click here to add your own text and edit me. I’m a great place for you to tell a story and let your users know a little more about you.
The art dealer who sold me a painting
I had come to the end of the Palace and people were encouraged to exit here, but I wanted to go to Tian’anmen Square, which was back near the entrance, so I went back the way I had come, probably walking four kilometres while just in the Forbidden City. It was hard to drag myself away, knowing I may never see this wonderful place again, and kept looking over my shoulder and I headed out to the next historic place.