28 August 2009

Forbidden City, Beijing

The Forbidden City is in the heart of Beijing and is a central part of any tour to the city. It is such a special place that it warrants its own write up here.

The approach to the City is via Tianenmen Square, which is well worth a visit itself. Unfortunately part of the reason for this is the events that happened there twenty years ago.

The Forbidden City, like much of the landmarks in China, dates from the Ming Dynasty and was constructed in the early fifteenth century. It's old.

It was a home to the Chinese emperors for about five hundred years until the end of the empire in the early twentieth century. It's old and has a long history.

The first thing that strikes you is the sheer size of it all. The first buildings that you see from the entrance are around 100 yards away and this is just the first set of buildings. The site is rectangular and measures some 750m by 950m.

The City is built on several levels with wide open spaces between the various buildings. The way up to, and down from, these levels is via wide stone staircases.

These staircases are in levels and at each level there is a wide walkway that leads off to each side. This adds some complexity to the site and provides interesting vantage points from which to enjoy the buildings and spaces.

The stairs and walkways are decorated uniformly and successfully in that they look grand but are not oppressive and do not detract from the buildings that they surround.

Which brings me on to the buildings, of which there are a lot. I've seen several different estimates for the number of rooms in the City so it is hard to be precise but there are around 9,000!

Though the buildings vary in size they all have the same familiar design common to most historical buildings in China. They are made of wood with highly decorated roof timbers. They have a sense of space while the decoration prevents the repetition from being boring.

The roofs are exquisite.

Again the style is familiar but this is the Forbidden City so it is grander and more impressive. They are coloured gold and have wonderful carvings.

I could have selected any number of photos but this one edged it because the close-up shows how the roof is put together and how each part is decorated.

As with the Summer Palace, the long corridors provided a welcome relief from the Summer sun. The design of the site seems simple but it is very effective for the climate and the needs of an emperor.

Again, this is a place that I could have spent a lot more time than we were allowed and would be on my must visit again list if I ever get back to Beijing.

And with more to see at the Summer Palace, Great Wall and Forbidden City there is a real case for going back before too long.

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