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China 4: The Forbidden City

From Tiananmen Square it was a natural progression north into the Forbidden City. Again due to my own lack of research prior to the trip, I was a bit unprepared for the absolutely stunning scale and architecture of the place.

To get to the Forbidden City you first go through the Tiananmen Gate (aka Gate of Heavenly Peace) featuring Mao portrait and, at the time of our visit, majestic scaffolding.

To get to the Forbidden City you first go through the Tiananmen Gate (aka Gate of Heavenly Peace) featuring Mao portrait and, at the time of our visit, majestic scaffolding.

Once through this outer gate we sorted tickets – about 60CNY, or NZ$12, and joined the forward momentum of humans through the first main gate of the city. I didn’t appreciate at the time that the Forbidden City contains almost 1,000 buildings. It’s probably just as well that most of these are closed to the public otherwise we may still be there.

The Meridian Gate is the actual entrance to the Forbidden City.

The Meridian Gate is the actual entrance to the Forbidden City.

Touching the gold sticky outy bits of the gate is meant to bring good luck.

Touching the gold sticky outy bits of the gate is meant to bring good luck.

The FC is over 600 years old. It was a city within a city within a city within a city, being inside the Imperial City which was part of the Inner City in ancient Beijing. For about 500 years the FC was China’s imperial palace, home to emperors and their entourages. The name refers to the fact that no one could enter or leave the palace without the emperor’s permission. He’d certainly be a busy chap these days.

The Gate of Supreme Harmony, the largest gate in the palace.

The Gate of Supreme Harmony.

Pairs of Chinese guardian lions are often found in front of important buildings  The ones here at the Gate of Supreme Harmony are the largest in the palace.

Pairs of guardian lions are often found in front of important buildings.

This was later on at the Gate of Heavenly Purity. Female guardian lions have a cub underneath their paw, which I initially thought seemed quite aggressive but it's meant to symbolise  the cycle of life, or some such.

This was later on at the Gate of Heavenly Purity. Female guardian lions have a cub underneath their paw, which I initially thought seemed quite aggressive but it’s meant to symbolise the cycle of life, or some such.

forbiddencity10

It was sort of like unpeeling a massive and visually pleasing onion as we progressed through the gates and sectors. As well as us gawking at the buildings and spaces, we were also conscious of being gawked at ourselves. It was a weird feeling.

The Hall of Supreme Harmony Square - quite a breathtaking space.

The Hall of Supreme Harmony Square – quite a breathtaking space.

The centrepiece of the square, and heart of the Forbidden City, is the Hall of Supreme Harmony (top left). It's China's largest surviving wooden structure.

The centrepiece of the square, and heart of the Forbidden City, is the Hall of Supreme Harmony (top left). It’s China’s largest surviving wooden structure.

One of the buildings bordering the square is Hongyi Pavilion, or if you'd rather, Hall of Enhanced Righteousness.

One of the buildings bordering the square is Hongyi Pavilion, or if you’d rather, Hall of Enhanced Righteousness.

From the Hall of Supreme Harmony looking back to the Gate of Supreme Harmony.

From the Hall of Supreme Harmony looking back to the Gate of Supreme Harmony.

Imperial roof decorations were prevalent in the Forbidden City. At the front is a man riding a phoenix, at the back is a dragon, and in between are mythical beasts. Usually in odd number combos, the more beasts the more important the building. The maximum is 10 which only the Hall of Supreme Harmony has.

Imperial roof decorations were prevalent in the Forbidden City. At the front is a man riding a phoenix, at the back is a dragon, and in between are mythical beasts. Usually in odd number combos, the more beasts the more important the building.

...The maximum is 10 which only the Hall of Supreme Harmony has.

…The maximum is 10 which only the Hall of Supreme Harmony has.

Walking through to see a collection of ancient clocks. I'll spare you the photos.

Walking through to see a collection of ancient clocks. I’ll spare you the photos.

One of four gilded bronze vats outside the Gate of Heavenly Purity. There are 300+ vats in the Forbidden City; they used to be filled with water to help combat fires.

One of four gilded bronze vats outside the Gate of Heavenly Purity. There are 300+ vats in the Forbidden City; they used to be filled with water to help combat fires.

We jostled with the hordes in the Imperial Gardens as we navigated fairly quickly around the ancient trees and funny rockeries. We were mainly keen to find the elephants which we did on the way out. And that pretty much brought our FC journey to an end.

Leaving the Forbidden City, Jingshan Park straight ahead.

Leaving the Forbidden City, Jingshan Park straight ahead.

And on the other side. The Forbidden City exit is another impressive structure with another impressive name: Gate of Divine Prowess.

And on the other side. The Forbidden City exit is another impressive structure with another impressive name: Gate of Divine Prowess.

Our visit wasn’t exhaustive but we saw plenty. If you were especially keen and had the luxury of time, you could probably allow a full day to pace yourself and see it all.

The FC is surrounded by a moat and the excavated soil was used to build Jingshan Park across the road. We made our way there, hot and fatigued bodies needing to suck it up for the uphill slog. The summit provides a fantastic view over the FC – or at least on a clear day it must be fantastic.

Yep that's some good smog going on out there. Mike consulted an app on his phone to get the air quality index each day.

Yep that’s some good smog going on out there. Mike consulted an app on his phone to get the air quality index each day.

This had been hot work. We were buggered.

This had been hot work. We were buggered.

There was a rooftop bar nearby and we summoned the energy to go find it.

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15 Comments Post a comment
  1. Wow. I can see how you were exhausted after all the sights and sounds and, clicking of your camera. These are all some very interesting photos.

    12 October 2014
    • Thanks Yvonne. Yes the heat and hours of walking was taking its toll and this was only day 2! Also, I think I must bend backwards slightly when taking photos (though I never ever remember to pay attention to this during the act) as my lower back started to get really sore. Small prices to pay though for these travel experiences!

      13 October 2014
  2. I feel exhausted just reading about this! Love all the details on the buildings, and the names. I think we should have a Hall of Enhanced Righteousness in Wellington.

    12 October 2014
    • The detail of the buildings was incredible, and repeated over such a huge scale – just wow. They had a knack with names! That one would sit well at Parliament somewhere – moreso than say the Hall of Supreme Harmony :).

      13 October 2014
  3. Yes, the smog.. heard about it. But glad to see that you were able to walk around the sites, and share the stories – the story about that carved cub was fascinating.. as it the breathtakingly massive complex full of Hall and wide open plazas. Wow wow wow. Leave it to the Chinese…

    13 October 2014
    • Hi Amit, yes thankfully the smog didn’t really impact our activities and went away on the day it mattered most. The space, detail and architecture here was astounding and it’s hard to believe it only took them 15 years to build the Forbidden City.

      13 October 2014
  4. Janice Strong #

    Hi Hayley I am reading your blogs backwards and am blown away by this one. It was hot work just keeping up with your narrative and photos. An incredible place and it did have a weird feeling even in the photos. A great experience to have seen this I am sure.
    Will now read your past blogs. That drink at the bar would have gone down well too..
    Love
    Janice

    13 October 2014
    • Hi Janice, thanks for taking the time. It’s an amazing place especially given it’s basically all still intact. Sadly the drink didn’t come to fruition, the rooftop bar was closed for a wedding – very disappointing at the time! x

      13 October 2014
      • Janice Strong #

        Thanks for your reply Hayley. Oooh that’s a shame about the drink. Hope that you made up for it somewhere else. You both deserved it after that hot day. x

        14 October 2014
  5. So unbelievable places! Wonderful and interesting photos.

    25 October 2014
  6. Those roof tops are so exciting, all the different reds, the myriad colours, the carvings, the sculptures! so much to take in, no wonder you were exhausted! Lovely lovely photographs, thank you πŸ˜€

    29 October 2014
    • It was a mind boggling place. I’m actually disappointed with my trip photos overall – especially at the moment as I’m sorting through our visit to the Great Wall. Damn!
      But thank you πŸ™‚

      31 October 2014
      • I think you did a great job, It’s very hard taking photographs in such a massive space with high buildings and so many people. You went to the Great Wall too?! wow, we are in for a treat!

        1 November 2014
  7. Amazing photos and description. You are very lucky to be able to travel to the ancient places. Thank you for the outstanding photos.

    7 November 2014

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