Of course no trip to Beijing is complete without a visit to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City! So for our first trek out, we headed to Tiananmen Square which is opposite the Forbidden City.
I knew Tiananmen Square because of political protests. As Lonely Planet explains:
Here one stands at the symbolic centre of the Chinese universe. The rectangular arrangement, flanked by halls to both east and west, to some extent echoes the layout of the Forbidden City: as such, the square employs a conventional plan that pays obeisance to traditional Chinese culture, but many of its ornaments and buildings are Soviet-inspired. Mao conceived the square to project the enormity of the Communist Party, and during the Cultural Revolution he reviewed parades of up to a million people here. The ‘Tiān’ānmén Incident’, in 1976, is the term given to the near-riot in the square that accompanied the death of Premier Zhou Enlai. Another million people jammed the square to pay their last respects to Mao in the same year. Most infamously, in 1989 the army forced prodemocracy demonstrators out of the square. Hundreds lost their lives in the surrounding streets, although contrary to widespread belief, it is unlikely that anyone was killed in the square itself. The famous ‘tank man’ photo was taken not on the square but from the balcony of Běijīng Hotel on Chang’an Jie; now Bijěīng Hotel NUO.
All this – plus the absence of anywhere to sit – means the square is hardly a place to chill out (don’t whip out a guitar), but such is its iconic status that few people leave Běijīng without making a visit.
Across from Tiananmen Square is the Forbidden City, once home to two Chinese Dynasties, the Ming and the Qing from 1420 to 1912. The Forbidden City served as the home of emperors and their households as well as the ceremonial and political center of Chinese government for almost 500 years. Again to quote the Lonely Planet:
Ringed by 3.5km of scarlet citadel walls at the very heart of Běijīng, the Unesco-listed Forbidden City is China’s largest and best-preserved collection of ancient buildings, and the largest palace complex in the world. Steeped in stultifying ritual and Byzantine regal protocol, this other-worldly palace was the reclusive home to two dynasties of imperial rule, sharing 900-plus buildings with a retinue of eunuchs, servants and concubines, until the Republic overthrew the last Qing emperor in 1911.
I was really surprised at just how big the Forbidden City would be. If you weren’t to stop and look at anything, it’d take at least an hour to walk from the entrance at the front until the exit at the back. It really is a city within a city!
The imperial park, Jingshan Park, is directly across the street from the exit of the Forbidden City. I really wanted to visit, because you can climb to the top of Coal Hill and enjoy a panoramic view of Beijing, as well as look directly into the Forbidden City. It didn’t disappoint!