Tian'anmen Square and Forbidden City

Catherine Wood
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, August 24, 2009
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A rare sunset watches over the square at the end of the day[China.org.cn]

A rare sunset watches over the square at the end of the day[China.org.cn]

◇ Why is Tian'anmen Square and Forbidden City number 3 on the list?

So far on the list of Top 10, we have discussed elements of Beijing which are also very central to the identity of China. Tian'anmen Square and the Forbidden City are the first things we have encountered that are central to the cultural identity of Beijing.

Engulfed in rich history, these earmarks of Beijing should be done together if anything because of their physical location. Tian'anmen Square is right across the street from the Forbidden City, separated by the Gate of Heavenly Peace, which is hallmarked by the larger than life Chairman Mao portrait that overlooks the square.

◇ What you should know before you go: Tian'anmen Square

Tian'anmen Square is the largest city square in the world. It was originally constructed in 1651 during the Ming Dynasty at a scale about one-fourth its current size. In 1958 it was expanded to its current size and cemented over as a large gathering place for the peoples of China.

◇ Navigating the Square

Tian'anmen Square is surrounded on all sides by official government buildings and important landmarks. These include: the parliamentary building (west), Chairman Mao's Mausoleum (south), The Chinese National Museum (east), and the Forbidden City (north).

The middle of the square breaks the flat horizon of what seems to become never ending asphalt with the Monument to the People's Heroes. This is especially powerful, not only because of its sheer daunting aesthetics, but because it is a tribute to those who gave their lives for China. The monument stands as tall and as proud as the people it represents, it is hard not to get a strong sense on nationalism while visiting the square, even if you are not Chinese.

An average trip here can range from 30 minutes to several hours depending on your itinerary. It is easy to become lost in the strong nationalism that hangs thick in the air. Mao's Mausoleum can sometimes close early in the day and there is always a long line. If visitors want to go inside, they should plan accordingly.

◇ What to know before you go: Forbidden City

The Forbidden City in Beijing is considered the best preserved imperial palace in China and the largest ancient palatial structure in the world. Moreover, it is recognized as one of the top five most important palaces in the world and a real cultural treasure of China.

It is called Gugong by the Chinese and also has earned the name of Purple Forbidden City long ago. This is because purple has been regarded as the symbolic color of the North Star, which was believed to be the center of the cosmos and because of purple's long standing ties to royalty.

Throughout the years, the Forbidden City palace was home to 24 emperors during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Originally constructed between 1406 and 1420, the palace was off limits to commoners for nearly 500 years. The emperor was given full reign of the palace and was believed to be the son of Heaven. The palace had to be lavish enough for a person of such importance and ergo, it was modeled after what people believed to be God's purple palace in Heaven.

It is easy to get lost in the huge palace complex. With a plethora of long alleyways and corridors, things start to look the same after awhile if you don't know where you are. Wear comfortable shoes and bring water during your trip. Trips to the Forbidden City usually last between 2 and 3 hours.

◇ Navigating the Palace: Forbidden City

The Forbidden City is comprised of a total area of about 72 hectares and floor space of about 150,000 square meters (1,614,586 square feet). All together there are 90 palaces and courtyards, 980 buildings, and 8,704 rooms!

Most visitors enter the Palace from the Forbidden City. From here, visitors will cross the large paved square to the main entrance into the palace: the Meridian Gate. This is the location where the Emperor announced the new calendar on the winter solstice. The Golden Stream Bridge leads to the outer court section of the palace, where the emperor conducted his public affairs.

The Outer Court is comprised of three main buildings: The Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihedian), the Hall of Central Harmony (Zhonghedian), and the Hall of Preserving Harmony (Baohedian). These were home to grand government affairs and state concerns. Also imperial examinations and large banquets happened in these places.

The Inner Court is comprised of three main structures at the rear of the Forbidden City. These include: the Palace of Heavenly Peace (Qianqinggong), the Palace of Union and Peace (Jiaotaidian), and the Palace of Terrestrial Tranquility (Kunninggong). Six eastern and six western palaces also are included in the Inner Court where the Emperor handled everyday affairs and lived his normal life. The Emperor, Empress, and concubines lived in this part of the palace and their rooms have been since converted into exhibition halls for imperial collections.

The imperial garden is still further north inside the Forbidden City and brings an organic element into the palace. Beyond the garden is the main exiting gate: the Gate of Devine Might.

For security, Forbidden City was constructed with a large 10 meter high city wall. The wall has a total circumference of 3,430 meters and watchtowers guarding every corner of the palace complex.

◇ Get out there and start exploring!

Believe me when I say it is very hard to condense and boil the wonderful sights of Tian'anmen Square and the Forbidden City down into just a few paragraphs. These are truly important integral to the cultural identity that is Beijing and furthermore, China. No trip to Beijing would be complete without seeing both of these sights.

(China.org.cn August 24, 2009)

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