Today we went to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. We hiked up to the top pavilion in Jingshan Park just north of the Forbidden City to get a spectacular bird’s eye view of the entire complex (also another tip from Tyler).
We originally planned to enter through the North Gate and exit through the South, but when we got there, a sign had been put up saying everyone was now required to enter through the South and exit through the North. Foiled! So we hopped on the bus to get to the other side.
We did our obligatory cursory walk through Tiananmen Square—not much to see there, just a giant plaza. You can go see Mao’s preserved body on display in the mausoleum, but supposedly it’s very hard to get in and you have to get there extremely early. Not our cup of tea.
The Forbidden City was built in the early 1400s, so it was in use for about 500 hours before the last emperor was overthrown. Most of the emperors rarely left the walls of the Forbidden City, and they lived there with the Empress, concubines (some records say there have been up to 10,000 concubines at one time!), and eunuchs—the only other men allowed in the palace to ensure the authenticity of the offspring.
We passed through the ceremonial halls where the emperor would see his subjects and officials, and it’s a series of elaborately carved thrones. They don’t let you inside, so you are left pushing and shoving against the tour groups in these tiny doorways. I think my head was going to explode from the crowdedness.
One of the stairways leading up to a hall holds a 17 meter long, 200 ton marble carving that came from a single giant slab of marble. It was transported to the palace from the west of Beijing; water was thrown on the streets to freeze so they could slide the huge slab all the way to the palace on the ice.
More interesting and less crowded are the side exhibits to the east and west of the main halls. You can see the living quarters and we went inside the museum where they have imperial treasures on display. One of which is a jade carving weighing over 5 tons and took 10 years to carve. Impressive.
Overall, it was a tourist zoo in the Forbidden City, but once you got off the tour group circuit and into the side halls, it was much more enjoyable.