Beijing is speeding up efforts to revamp centuries-old historic sites and the city's symbolic hutong in preparation for the 2008 Olympic Games.
A short inauguration ceremony was held on Friday to mark the start of a one-year project to restore the 600-year-old Imperial Ancestral Temple, adjacent to the well-known Tian'anmen Rostrum in the west.
"With a total investment of 15 million yuan (US$1.85 million), it is the largest restoration to the magnificent halls of the temple since 1949," said Kong Fanzhi, head of the Beijing Municipal Administration of Cultural Heritage, at the ceremony.
An important part of the Forbidden City, the temple, renamed the Working People's Cultural Palace after the founding of New China, mainly consists of three magnificent halls, each with its own auxiliary halls.
"Workers will remove the cement used in the past to fill cracks in the building, restore the ancient tiles and nails on the rooftops and restore the mural paintings on the outer walls using traditional methods," he said.
Kong told reporters that restoration workers would use a type of paint containing organic silicone to cover and protect the white marble sculptures throughout the building.
"Basically speaking, we would not alter the tiles that cover the rooftops during the renovation as well the frescoes on the walls of the halls," said Wang Yuwei, an administration official in charge of cultural heritage protection. "But the concrete floor tiles that were laid during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) would be replaced by the 'golden quadrels' as used in the Forbidden City," he said.
During the Ming and Qing dynasties, on occasions such as an emperor ascending to the throne, a triumphant return from battle or the presentation of prisoners of war, the emperor would first come to the temple to offer sacrifices to his ancestors.
Beijing has already begun restoration projects for 13 of 17 historical sites this year, in accordance with an Olympics cultural protection program, Kong's administration said.
To maintain the original style of Beijing's hutong, the city recently adopted a special policy on their environmental protection to guide restoration work.
The walls and rooms of a hutong must be painted a typical grey color and be built with traditional materials, while the layout should be maintained in its original form.
The Dongcheng District has taken the lead in the restoration push, with plans to renovate more than 100 hutong. By the end of July the district had already given 69 hutong a facelift, strictly in accordance with the policy, reported the Beijing-based Star Daily.
(China Daily August 5, 2006)