2009 World Cruise – After breakfast we checked out of the hotel and our luggage was taken to the airport. We were supposed to walk through Tian’amnen Square but Lin, our guide, told us that due to the leadership conference taking place the square was cordoned off to visitors.
As we walked to the Forbidden City we passed the massive square (109 acres – one of the top ten largest city squares in the world) that is home to Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum, The Great Hall of the People, the National Museum of China and the Monument to the Peoples Heroes. Tian’amnen Square sits in the center of Beijing.The Square takes its name from the Tian’amnen Gate (Gate of Heavenly Peace) that was built at the northern end of the Imperial City in 1415 during the Ming Dynasty. The original gate was virtually destroyed during an uprising (and re-built) and when the square was created in 1615 it took on the name.
One of the things I have learned to do is buy postcards. Sometimes you just can’t get a photo of something. Sometimes it is too big or you need to have a different angle. You can usually find a postcard that fits the bill. These are two I bought that show Tian’amnen Square with the Tian’amnen Gate and the Forbidden City at the top end.
Thankfully at the Imperial City (aka Forbidden City) – now known as the Palace Museum – there were wheelchairs available for rent. Lin strongly encouraged our five slower folks to avail themselves of them as it was going to be a long, long walk. It took over 2 1/2 hours to walk through the middle! We did not enter any of the buildings but could meander over the various courtyards and terraces.
We paused for a photo just outside. The crowds were horrendous. There were dozens of different tours gathering to go inside. In order to keep track of the people many of the tours had each member wear a similar hat which made it easier for the guides to find strays. We had Harold from Melbourne, Australia. He is very tall. Lin is short. So when she wanted her group to gather together Harold would hold up our HAL tour sign and wave it. No matter where we where we could spot it easily. (Note the group on the right all wearing the same grey hat.)
I climbed up a couple of steps to a take a photo and when I looked around my group had completely disappeared! I couldn’t see any of them anywhere. I was just beginning to worry that they had entered the Imperial City without me when I spied them a little further down the street. Whew! Seriously, with the crush of people gathered at the entrance I would have been in serious trouble trying to find them again.
The Forbidden City was the Imperial Palace of the Ming (1368-1644) Dynasty (14 emperors) and the Qing (1644-1911) Dynasty (10 emperors). The palace building complex begins at Tian’amnen (Gate of Heavenly Peace,) centers on the Outer Court, and ends at the Jingshan Hill. Within the palace there are reputed to be 9,999 rooms and halls (some say the accurate figure is 8,886) in a total building space of 150,000 square meters covering an area of 720,000 square meters (180 acres). To build such a large ‘city’ within the city, the Ming Dynasty used the entire country’s manpower and material resources. A hundred thousand artisans and a million workmen were conscripted for the project and materials were gathered from everywhere in the country. It was built in just 14 years (1406-1420).
This is a photo of the brochure we were given. All of the red rectangles are the roofs of buildings. The entire complex is surrounded by a 10-meter-high (over 30′) and 3.4 kilometer-long city wall. Outside the wall is a 52-meter-wide (171′) and 3.8 kilometer-long (2.3 miles) moat which is 6 meters (20′) deep and has water in it all year round.
If you look at this image full screen you can see that the green area through the middle (where we walked) is a very small portion of the whole complex. The majority of the rooms and buildings were behind the central courtyard walls.
The palace is built along the central axis of Beijing and runs 961 meters (3,153′) north to south and 753 meters (2470′) east to west. In 1987 it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site, listed as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden buildings in the world.
The Imperial City was the formal seat of government in the land. It was the home of the emperor, his family, about 3,000 concubines, and their servants. The complex was the political and ritual center of China for over 500 years.
We crossed the bridge over the moat and walked through the tunnel in the wall. The palace wall is 7.9 meters (26′) tall and over 8 meters (28′) wide at the base and 6.66 meters (21.9′) wide at the top. Wide enough that horses could be ridden around it. It was weird how, with all the groups within the grounds, you could take a photo that was almost devoid of people and then turn around and see a large crowd.
The paving stones are 15 layers deep to prevent access by tunneling.
Many of the tours included visits to some of the museum rooms but we didn’t have time for that (the crowds to see the Imperial Throne room were nuts. I don’t think I would have ventured among them even if I had the chance.)
It took the remainder of our morning to walk the length of the Forbidden City. I loved the decorative features and colourful paint on the eaves and roof peaks.
And I loved the calm water and reflections in the Inner Golden Water River that meanders through the complex. There multi-level terraces in front of many of the buildings. This sun-dial was huge.
I really liked the dragon/turtle. Even the emperors of old had fire departments. We left the Palace Museum through the Imperial Garden, past Scholars Rock, and out the Shenwu gate to the street. We got back on the bus, and, since we had made good time going through the Imperial City, our local guide Arthur arranged a trip to a silk factory where we saw ladies pull a ball-size lump of silk to make layers for a duvet. There are about 80 layers of silk in each one. They had beautiful duvets, covers, sheets, clothing, and yard goods. All of the silk patterns and fabrics are made at the factory. We were served lunch in the upper banquet room of a nice hotel and then driven to the airport for our flight to Shanghai. Another building reflected in a building photo.
We got back on board the ship at 7:30, dropped our bags in our cabin and went to the theater to watch the Chinese acrobatic show. What jam-packed but awesome days! I am so glad we booked that overland excursion.