Both these places are vast. They are both examples of imperial dominance and the engineering prowess that they forced upon their subordinates. One in the centre of Beijing, is a great example of manipulation of stone and wood, the other is a reminder of the Chinese mindset of large scale natural engineering.
The Forbidden city
Once you’ve entered the perimeter wall, through the personal gate where the Emperor would enter his city on the rare occasions that he had left, there’s a gigantic courtyard with two other gates, one for soldiers, and one for the public. You then have to enter to the main ‘city’ area through the imposing meridian gate, a u-shaped gate with a viewing area that stands 37.95 m above the onlooking crowds.
This is where the Emperor would observe members of his population that he might be punishing, although they’d never be allowed to see him.
Once you’re through the rigmarole of pointless bag and ticket checks and quite possibly an hour in a queue, you enter through the gate’s tunnel, they really knew how to impose the Emperor’s imperial prowess on visitors and even today as a tourist you really feel small when you enter the complex.
You are faced immediately with the Hall of Supreme Harmony,
an absolutely beautiful example of Chinese temple architecture preceded by a bow shaped river with marble arched bridges over it. It is said that you can fit 100000 people in this area and was used for the emperor to observe his army and court.
The rest of the complex is a maze of courtyards and museums, it’s really worth spending all day here wandering around until your feet are too sore to walk anymore. The museums on the east side of the complex are fascinating, with examples of Chinese craft, western countries gifts to the Emperor, and a magnificent opera stage. Unfortunately, this was being renovated during our visit and therefore shut early.
The west side is well worth a proper wander, it’s where the emperor and his court lived and contains really amazing examples of ancient Chinese architecture.
There’s a great large rock carving which is called the ‘Large Rock Carving’. You gotta love the Chinese logic.
And some excellent other names.
The back end of the city contains one of the best landscaped gardens you’ll ever see.
The person who made all the signs needs a medal.
There’s some great animal statues in here, including elephants with legs bent the wrong way to show that the power of the Emperor can make impossible things happen.
And cool lions that everyone wanted to touch.
We have deliberately not explained everything in here because it’s mammoth and the real joy is to meander through the multitude of courtyards for yourself. You have to battle through the crowds to see this but it’s not to be missed, it is the only occasion where we advise you to talk a selfie stick to get that picture above the crowds that are three deep at all times. Also don’t forget to save the energy to walk back out to the road, it is a long walk back through the complex and out to the street!
Once we got out onto the street we took a walk past Tiananmen square. A significant and controversial place, it was actually closed because of a state visit from Singapore which is coincidental because that is where we are flying home from. The lights were pretty but perhaps a strange way to light up a parliament building and a picture of Chairman Mao.
We visited the summer palace on a sunny day with a Canadian couple that we’d met in Seoul. It was nice to wander around what is essentially a massive, beautiful, personal park that the Emperor used to come to in the summer.
There is a lot of people here, you can see the amount by the proportion of people out on the lake.
The palace is huge, it is said that the Emperor that had the lake extended, by dredging, stood from this vantage point to direct his army of workers. There are again the human snake crowds that you might expect from a Chinese tourist destination. It is possible to get away from the thick coverings of people to the slightly less thick coverings of people everywhere by climbing the hill on the east side of the lake.
Up the top there’s a couple of beautiful temples, this one is called the Tower of Buddhist Incense. It actually has a few different names, one of them was the Hall of Multitudinous Fragrance. Chinese temple names are the best.
Notice the green and gold tiles here, this is significant in another post that’s coming up about the Shenyang Imperial Palace. The gold is an imperial colour, but the Manchurians that ruled during the Qing era – which was the last dynasty to rule China, added the green borders so that they could remember their ancestral home in the mountains.
At the top of the hill was a pretty spectacular sight of an entire building covered in green and gold tiles, with golden statues of a Buddha in hundreds of enclaves.
Inside this building was like entering another world. The entrance impressed darkness on your eyes which, contrasted with the bright sunlight outside, rendered you blind for half a second. When vision was restored there are a number of beautifully carved figures in alcoves and suggests some of the buddhist grottos that you might see in caves in the mountains. It really seemed like a portal into a separate historical realm. Then you look left and there’s a souvenir stand. You can’t have it all.
There was an inscription in here from a buddhist hymn that was particularly striking and it was:
“The realm of multitudinous fragrance, the forests of God, the seas of wisdom, and the auspicious clouds.”
Thought we’d give you space for that one to sink in.
After this we ambled down the other side of the hill to Suzhou street. Suzhou is a famous city in the east of China, close to Shanghai and Wuxi where Pete lived. It’s famous for it’s rivers and canals, arched bridges, and some of the best garden architecture in the country.
We had lunch here, it’s a really nice atmosphere and you can wander right around this little inlet, through the bridge and out the other side.
After lunch we headed back towards the lake through the forested hill, we came across these ladies dancing. It was lovely to watch them immersed in their passion.
Back at the lake we came across this marble boat, as you do. We were joking around that it was floating on the water.
You can get a fairly cheap, or a not so cheap, boat over to the temple in the middle of the lake. You can even peddle over.
There was lots of opportunities to snap some cool people, we both love to people watch.
We stayed in the palace all day until the sun started to set and it started to empty of people.