The Forbidden City(Gù Gōng) is the biggest tourist attraction in Beijing itself. This is where, sooner or later, every tour will call. And no wonder, because it is a one-of-a-kind place, a monument of the highest class and a rarity in the world. Are you curious why Banned?
If you’ve been reading our report, you know that a little out of spite, but we didn’t direct our first steps in Beijing towards either the Great Wall or the Forbidden City. We left these two gems for later, as the proverbial icing on the cake.
Why so? We feared that after seeing the Forbidden City, nothing would impress us again. We read a lot of reports, talked to people who had been to China recently as well as a dozen years ago, and they all agreed that if they had to choose one place in Beijing, it would be to the Forbidden City.
After such advertising, could we not go there? :) We had no doubt that this largest palace complex in the world is a must see. Though perhaps not precisely in the first place ;-)
Table of contents
Entrance to the Forbidden City
Traditionally, we did not manage to leave the hotel first thing in the morning, I would even say that we were there more before noon than in the morning, but maybe it was a good thing. Apparently, in the morning there are large queues to enter. And it’s not just about checkout lines.
Well, the only entrance to the Forbidden City is from Tian’anmen Square (there will be another time about the Square itself), where you have to reckon with additional baggage control, and this is where we spent the most time. złsmoothly for us, but they screened some very carefully.
Only after passing the inspection can you go towards the checkouts and then to the entrance, where the guards can also look you over. Organizationally, it is quite fine – everything is very well marked, there are tunnels to the checkout, etc. When we were at the cash registers, they were empty, but there are so many of them that I can imagine that even during peak hours they embrace the theme well.
Of interest, you can get an audioguide in Polish here.
IMPORTANT: you need a passport to purchase a ticket! It is also significant that there is a limit of 80,000 visitors per day (apparently this is achievable in China :) ).
Forbidden City – sightseeing
We finally started the tour of the Forbidden City, although we now know that it should have lasted several days, not hours! This complex is really huge and it is impossible to see it all in one day with due diligence! The history, descriptions and legends circulating around the place are insanely interesting and engaging, even for someone with no interest in history or architecture.
There are 800 buildings (!) and 9,000 rooms (!!) in the Forbidden City, which are under constant renovation. With such a large area, it would be hard to take care of everything at once, so it’s not surprising to find scaffolding and building materials every now and then.
As a matter of fact, more than half of the complex is closed to the public, but even what is accessible is located in a large area and is enriched with exhibitions that make almost everyone find something for themselves.
Well, as befits Beijing and a top tourist attraction, the place is very crowded, although it doesn’t particularly bother because the large available space causes people to disperse, and we could even safely pass by in a stroller (although you can forget about the panorama without people ;-)).Please define valid width and height attributes for remote images. This will also optimize the loading time of the remote panorama.
The entire Forbidden City is surrounded by a 52-meter moat and an additional 10-meter wall with towers, and the distance between the southern and northern gates is almost 1 kilometer!
As mentioned, we entered from the side of Tian’anmen Square and this is the only entrance to the Forbidden City, but there are more exits: we especially recommend the one from the north, which is where most visitors head.
Before entering the Forbidden City, however, we pass another symbol of Beijing – the Gate of Heavenly Peace, from which Mao calmly looks down on us. Only after passing through it do we slowly head to the Forbidden City proper….
The first, and also the most impressive and furiously red gate within the city is the South Gate (Wumen). Crossing it, we saw a large courtyard with five small marble bridges over a stream (Golden Stream), and at the opposite end, the magnificent Gate of Supreme Harmony.
Farther away is another huge square that can accommodate 100,000 people!!! Aren’t you already dizzy from these numbers? :) On an elevated platform with three terraces, here are the famous three pavilions, successively: the Pavilion of Supreme Harmony (Taihedian), the Pavilion of Moderate Harmony (Zhonghedian) and the Pavilion of Enduring Harmony (Baohedian).
The first pavilion is the most important and largest building within the Forbidden City. It was here that the emperor held a “party” to celebrate his birthday, crowned the next heads or decorated the most important military officers. The beautifully decorated Dragon Throne is also located here.
The Second Pavilion was an intermediate building where the emperor powdered his nose ;) and practiced his speech. The third pavilion was used for banquets and, in later times, for state examinations. Here the most noteworthy is the giant marble block with dragons, just behind the pavilion, which weighs 250 tons and was transported on icy roads.
Passing through the high thresholds of the buildings and looking down on the entire courtyard, we can feel like one of the 24 emperors who officiated here.
Can you not get enough? Continuing north, several more central pavilions await, accessed through the Gate of Celestial Purity. There are pavilions where, among other things, the emperor lived, his concubines and where he received guests. These include the Palace of Heavenly Purity (Qiangqinggong), the Palace of Earthly Tranquility (Kunninggong) and the Pavilion of Unity (Jiaotaidian).
Heading further into Jingshan Park, we ended up at the Imperial Gardens, where you can even see elephants (made of bronze admittedly, but there they are)! This large area (7,000 square meters) is home to rockeries, pathways and smaller pavilions in addition to vegetation.
Off the main route
Besides the main route through the Forbidden City, what is worth seeing?
At about the height of the Third Harmony Pavilion, in the eastern part, in the area of the so-called Mini Forbidden City (Peace and Longevity Palace), there is a “panorama” with nine dragons. There is an additional fee to enter here, and we would advise you against entering here if it weren’t for the fact that you can also see the treasury in the price. So worth a look here though :)
Here you will find many other galleries or mini-museums, to which admission may be at an additional cost, for example. Porcelain Gallery, Calligraphy Gallery and Painting Gallery.
Walking through the Forbidden City, it is also worth noting various details, such as the large vases that are located in the squares – they are now empty, but in their heyday they contained water in case of fire. There are 308 of them in the Forbidden City.
More important buildings are guarded by bronze or stone lions, with the male individual holding a paw on the globe to symbolize the emperor’s power over the world, and the lioness guarding the little ones.
On the terrace around the Harmony Pavilion are the heads of dragons, which are part of the drainage system (we would have liked to see them when it rained heavily, but we don’t regret that we had nice weather ;-)).
Here we also learned what the creatures on the rooftops, which we have seen before (including at the Lama Temple), symbolize: they protect the imperial dragon, which is at the end of the queue. The more creatures, the more important the building, with no more than nine.
That’s right. Not quite a city within a city, but still banned. But first, a few tidbits that we think deserve mentioning behind before we get to the substance.
The origins of the Forbidden City date back to the 15th century, when the basic layout of the city was established. Most of the buildings that can be seen were built after the 18th century. Such a huge area required the work of many hands, both laborers and artists, and it is estimated that a total of nearly a million people worked here.
It was the place where the Emperor officiated, and it was he who decided who could stay in the territory of his domain and who could not. It was forbidden to enter the Forbidden City without an invitation, and if someone even managed to enter they faced the death penalty.
What else is interesting about the Forbidden City? The very fact that you can get(a)lost in this city (and even more, in our opinion, than in Lisbon’s Alfama). There are many streets, squares, courtyards in the complex, which are worth just walking around, discovering new places, looking into where others do not look.
Being inside for several hours, we saw only a small, most important part of the complex. We also walked along the smaller streets in the western part, discovered more or less well-kept courtyards, but we still feel unsatisfied.
For weary wanderers, there are also benches and chairs within the Forbidden City, where you can take a moment to relax and watch the passing crowds of visitors. We even needed a few breaks ;)
If, upon leaving the Forbidden City, you still have the strength and steam to go further, it is worthwhile, as if out of momentum, to enter through the gates on the other side of the street, straight into the Eternal Spring Pavilion that reigns in Jingshan Park.
Is it worth visiting the Forbidden City?
The Forbidden City probably doesn’t need to be introduced or advertised to anyone. We have been, we have seen, we recommend!
There were no wild crowds that we couldn’t get through, as some had frightened us. Maybe it’s a matter of season, or maybe most people started their tour of the City early in the morning. Or have we just gotten used to Beijing being crowded everywhere? ;)
Find out by viewing our gallery:
Photo Gallery: Forbidden City
See other photos from the Forbidden City.