This is part 3 of our recent trip to Beijing.
After 2 early starts and many miles put on our tired and weary feet we had a later start to our day as we planned to do a self guided tour of the Forbidden City. After another breakfast of coffee and pastry from the bakery next door we set off to the metro stop which was conveniently right in front of our hotel. After our walk to Tian ‘anmen Square, the long way round on Friday, we decided the metro was a better option. The Beijing Metro is extensive and covers large ground. 2 RMB (about 30 cents) to most stops is a super cheap way to travel.
After 2 short stops we arrived at our destination and when we excited the subway, police and security were blocking access to Tian ‘amen Square . We assumed it was due to the large crowds that were already congregating there. We were on the opposite side to the Forbidden City, so back in the metro we exited on the opposite side of the road and joined the crowds pushing towards the entrance. We hoped we wouldn’t be held back here. Surprisingly the crowds moved quickly and we were inside the grounds. Queues were in different locations and we were not sure exactly where to wait to buy our admission tickets. No one was barring our entrance, so we pushed on through various gates after snapping a few photos. Finally we came to a location where tickets were being presented. With broken English a fellow directed us where to go. Many agent windows were open and the process was slow going. Luckily a gentleman came and pointed to an empty wicket and with some hesitation we moved forward. Luckily a new window opened and we got our tickets within minutes and were inside the next set of grounds.
During the Ming and Qing Dynasties the Forbidden City was home for 24 Emperors. It is relatively new (1368-1644) not as old or ancient as I would have thought. Our guide, Jason, from the previous day said most palaces were moved or built a new with each Emperor, so only 1 other is still in existence today. An Imperial Palace housing numerous Emperors over generations was usual. The Forbidden Palace grounds contain over 8 700 rooms. The moat which is 52m wide is backed by a thick stone wall which stretches 10m high which provided further protection. Today it only keeps tourists out and allows entrances and exits through its 4 main gates.
Today was a disappointing day as the pollution, fog and smog made for a cloudy dull day. The brilliant reds, greens and yellows were lost in this dullness that enveloped everything. It was barely above 5˚c, not the sunny high of 15˚c that was predicted. Best to keep moving. I am not sure what I expected but the many buildings all looked similar and none allowed entrance inside. An opening over a railing allowed you a peek inside if you could stand the crowds jostling and vying for position to get a look. Never mind stopping to pose for a photo because you would be taking someone else’s profile or back of their head. Rarely will people stop and wait as you take a photo, often they walk through your shot oblivious to what you are doing. The sparsely decorated rooms were not much to see. Some were covered with plastic coverings or layers of polluted dust. Such a shame to let a large part of history fade away. I guess I expected more opulence and splendor since it was forbidden to most commoners in the day. The wind picked up and despite my many layers, gloves, hat and scarf I was chilled and starting to feel miserable. This only added to the feeling of an anti-climax and we questioned this is it? Additionally, knowing now we will leave China next year added to my sadness. Slowly our plans and excitement around Asia is coming to an end as so many things are getting crossed off our “Must See List”. The anticipation and feeling of ample time is turning to a feeling of loss and sadness to an interesting place that has been home and sooner than later will only be a collection of memories and photographs.
Tour guides, who approached us outside the main gates and audio tours were available, but we decided to do it at our own pace. The local guides are not hired by the location, so we were leery of how authentic and true their information may be. Not to mention you must wonder if they will scam you later for a large price than agreed on. We may have taken the audio tour, but to be honest we didn’t seek it out and we didn’t notice a place where this was available. With our limited Chinese we decided not to ask, but instead use the well posted signs around the City in convenient locations that explained briefly what we were looking at in Mandarin and English.
The most surprising thing I learned was of the large stone wall and moat that ran around the Forbidden City. Little of the city wall is left today, but the similar style of wall is still visible here. The moat, still filled with water, can be seen just after you enter near the Tian’anmen square gate. Moats seem more medieval Europe than Chinese, so it was something that really caught my attention. Our tour guide from our Great Wall Tour told us that today’s Tian’anmen Square used to be part of the Forbidden City, the Emperor’s front yard, he explained. The gardens in the rear of the palace are the only ones left today. The square was built after a model of the Soviet squares in Russia something that is not normally seen in Chinese city planning. Tian’anmen Square means Gate of Heavenly Peace and according to Wikipedia was destroyed during heavy fighting during a former dynasty. The name of the former gate was used to name the square Tian’anmen.
Stay tuned for more… next time the Temple of Heaven in Beijing.