The Forbidden City

The Hall of Supreme Harmony

On our first full day in Beijing, we headed out to explore one of the city’s top attractions, the Forbidden City. Also known as the Forbidden Palace or Palace Museum, it’s located in the central part of Beijing.  And lucky for us, it was within walking distance from our hostel.

We made our way through Tiananmen Square, walked under the famous picture of Mao on the front gate, and continued along the pathway to the City, dodging sellers every two feet. After at least a 10 minute walk from Tiananmen Square we eventually arrived at the south gate entrance, paid our entry fee and went through the gate.

The Palace of Heavenly Purity

The Forbidden City was built in 1406 and was the imperial palace for the Ming and Qing dynasties. For close to 500 years, 24 emperors ruled all of China from this immense and magnificent palace.  The Forbidden City covers an area of over 720,000m2 and consists of thousands of rooms and halls.  The Emperor lived and did day-to-day work within the inner section of the Forbidden City while handling court affairs and hosting different ceremonies in the outer section.  In the north section of the Forbidden City, the Emperor could enjoy pine trees, exotic flowers, ponds and pavilions in the Imperial Garden.

To say the City was large and grand would be an understatement. We were blown away by the shear size of the place! It seemed to go on and on forever. Just when we felt like we were stepping through a gate to reach the exit, another set of halls were stationed in front of us. We walked around for over 4 hours and still didn’t get to see even close to everything. It’s that big!

The throne in the Palace of Heavenly Purity

Even though the City has been rebuilt and restored over the years, the craftsmanship that went into constructing such a large compound was astounding. Fine attention to detail has been placed on the carvings of the window lattices, rooftops, and archways. And the colours on the roof beams and ceilings were vibrant and well maintained, with intricately painted pictures or patterns.

It’s interesting to note that the Forbidden City is also a museum, housing many historical and cultural relics within some of the buildings. Unfortunately, most of these buildings have been closed off to the public, leaving us with the only option of peaking through the windows to catch a glimpse of what lay inside. Of the buildings that were open to the public (housing such artifacts as jade statues and dish sets) they became a cool, air-conditioned place of refuge from the sweltering heat and humidity outside, while displaying some historic relics.

Getting off the beaten path

We would highly recommend forgoing any tour and explore the Palace on your own. By yourself you have the freedom to take your time roaming the grounds, sitting down and taking a break whenever you want, or even darting into a side alleyway off the well-traveled tour group route. It’ll also give you a bit of a reprieve from the hoards of people throughout the grounds if you’re not traveling as part of the pack. It’s incredible to think of the amount of people who must go through the Palace everyday, when you feel like you’re fighting through people while wandering through such a large complex.



What You Need to Know: Admission is 60rmb. Since July 2011, you can only enter the Forbidden Palace from the south gate and exit from the north gate. This was done to maintain the flow of visitors in one direction. If you’re taking the subway, get off at the Tiananmen East stop on line number 1.

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