In our first week of our RTW trip, we did 4 out of the 1000 places to see before you die, giving us a total of 34 out of the 1043 places listed in the book. The first place we went to see was the Forbidden City in Beijing, which has been the residence of Chinese emperors for more than 500 years. Of course, we want to give you an impression of what it was like to visit this legendary p(a)lace.
First off, since we have been super busy before the start of the trip, we didn’t have any time to read up on all the tourist attractions or even basic things we needed to know about China. We just dove into it. So, I’ll spare you all the great historical facts about the Forbidden City for two reasons:
First, there are so many great websites that can give you a wonderful insight to the history of the Forbidden City and second, this is not what this blog is about. It is about the experience of it all and not about the facts, although some facts are so amazing that hearing them becomes part of the experience.
Getting to and in the Forbidden City
The Forbidden City is directly north of the famous Tiananmen Square. The square itself is somewhat unspectacular. If it weren’t for the tragic history of this place, where hundreds of protesters were shot down by the military, it most likely would be unknown to all of us.
The entrance fee for the Forbidden City is 60 ¥ and the audio guide costs another 40 ¥ extra. If you understand English well enough, I encourage you to take the English version if you ever go to the Forbidden City. It is spoken by Roger Moore, which probably makes it a lot easier to understand than the German version or whatever your native language is, since the native version most likely comes with a very, very strong Chinese accent, making it sometimes hard to understand. Surprisingly, they even have the audio guide in Esperanto.
Inside the Forbidden City
When we first got into the Forbidden City, we were surprised to see so many Chinese people. Again, I know we are in China, but we thought there would be more foreigners here. The very pleasant side effect was that all the hawkers left us alone since they don’t speak English anyways.
Only very few guides offered their services. One even tried to tell us that “This is not Forbidden City” in the hope that we would believe him and hire him to get us to the “real” Forbidden City. He probably would have driven us around the block for a few minutes and then brought us right back here.
The palace itself is magnificent and truly deserves the name “City” because it is huge (about 1000m long and 700m wide). The audio guide gave some great insight to the different buildings and how they have been used by the emperors of the different dynasties. Unfortunately all the names of all emperors and dynasties sounded the same to us so it was quite hard to understand who did what to whom by betraying whom.
The style of Chinese palaces is completely different to the palaces in Europe, where the palaces usually are huge buildings surrounded by large parks and gardens. Here there are big halls for different celebrations and ceremonies surrounded by stone. No trees, no plants. Just lots of space laid with stone and decorated with beautiful cooper and stone statues.
The buildings where the emperors slept and lived appeared to be very tiny even compared to a modern apartment. Of course there are 9999 rooms in the Forbidden City, but I would have imagined that they would have built larger houses for the emperors to sleep in.
To compensate the lack of trees, there is a magnificent garden in the north of the Forbidden City with impressive 300-year old trees. I guess that the emperors spent most of their time in this garden as it absolutely is the most beautiful part of the entire palace.
Around the Forbidden City
Apart from the formidable large moat around the wall of the Forbidden City, the Jingshan Park to the north of the palace is something that you can’t miss. There is a huge 45m high artificial hill called Prospect Hill right in this park.
Climbing up those 45m was quite a challenge for us after a few hours of walking through the Forbidden City, but is was worth all the effort. Even with the smog covering Beijing, the magnificent view over the Forbidden City was a nice ending of this day. It gave us a chance to reflect on what we have seen and give us a better overview and understanding of the entire city.
From there we were also able to see the Drum Tower and the Bell Tower which we visited on another day. Luckily, Soni loves to take pictures and already took a photo of the towers even though we didn’t know what they were.
Is it really one of the 1000 places?
Even after a few days have passed since we have been there, I am still amazed of the Imperial Palace and the fantastic traditional Chinese architecture. This is one place that really earned the right to be one of the 1000 places everyone should see in his life.
Come back in the next few days to find our reports of the other 3 places we visited this week for example The Great Wall of China.