The Forbidden City 紫禁城, Peking

Panorama of the Forbidden City from Prospect Hill.

Panorama of the Forbidden City from Prospect Hill.

There isn’t much that hasn’t been said already about the Forbidden City.  How it was the seat of the Chinese Emperor from the 1400s all the way till 1911.  How it survived the marauding hordes of the Cultural Revolution because Premier Zhou Enlai sent military guards to surround and protect it.

It’s still an overwhelming sight to behold today… that is, if one can get around the hordes of Chinese tourists and their tour guides with loudspeakers blaring at full volume.

That’s right – I shall speak the unspeakable. Touring the Forbidden City is an exceptionally unpleasant and enervating experience. Most of the tour is spent trying to work around the thousands of people – largely Chinese – in the palace complex.

That’s ok in the outer palace – where there are immense courtyards flanked along the north-south axis by grandiose and majestic palaces.  But once past the threshold into the Inner Palace – where the Emperor, his wives, concubines and sons resided, the crowd becomes intolerable, especially since these gardens in the Inner Palace had been known for their tranquility and charm.

My recommendation is to walk through the Forbidden City as fast as you can, slip into Jingshan Park 景山公園 just to its north, and hike up the adjoining Prospect Hill to the Pavilion at its very top.  There, together with the relatively fewer numbers of Chinese tourists who deign to make the climb, you can enjoy a breathtaking panorama of the entire Forbidden City complex, in (relative) tranquility.

Thereafter, a walk around the Palace Walls and the Moat is an absolute delight, because only here, just outside the palace, can one get a sense of Old Beijing 老北京 – it is inherent in the solitary, elegant watchtowers that flank the old palace walls, and in the many flowering cherry trees and trailing willows that line the banks of the moat.

It is also, more importantly, infused in one of last remaining tracts of hutongs 胡同, or traditional courtyard houses, that sit along the edges of the wall – they are what remains of a vast Chinese city of courtyards and pavilions that Beijing once was; and which it has lost sight of in the race to develop.

Tiananmen Gate 天安門 (Gate of Heavenly Peace), viewed from Tiananmen Square.

Tiananmen Gate 天安門 (Gate of Heavenly Peace), viewed from Tiananmen Square.

Approaching the Forbidden City along its Southern Walls.

Approaching the Forbidden City along its Southern Walls.

Approaching the Noon Gate 午門, which is the entrance to the Palace.

Approaching the Noon Gate 午門, which is the entrance to the Palace.

Approaching the Noon Gate.

Approaching the Noon Gate.

Close-up of the Noon Gate.

Close-up of the Noon Gate.

Just past the Noon Gate sits an artificial River that cuts through the Palace.  This is one of the bridges across the river.

Just past the Noon Gate sits an artificial River that cuts through the Palace. This is one of the bridges across the river.

The Gate of Supreme Harmony 太和門.

The Gate of Supreme Harmony 太和門.

View to the buildings on the right, to show detail on roof.

View to the buildings on the right, to show detail on roof.

The Hall of Supreme Harmony 太和殿 is where the Emperor would receive visitors.

The Hall of Supreme Harmony 太和殿 is where the Emperor would receive visitors.

The Hall of Preserving Harmony 保和殿.  This hall together with the Hall of Supreme Harmony and the Hall of Central Harmony constitutes the Outer Court.

The Hall of Preserving Harmony 保和殿. This hall together with the Hall of Supreme Harmony and the Hall of Central Harmony constitutes the Outer Court.

Big bronze jars with the Hall of Central Harmony 中和殿 in the background.

Big bronze jars with the Hall of Central Harmony 中和殿 in the background.

Dragon stairway at the back of the Hall of Preserving Harmony.

Dragon stairway at the back of the Hall of Preserving Harmony.

A pair of bronze lions standing guard at the Gate of Heavenly Purity 乾清門.

A pair of bronze lions standing guard at the Gate of Heavenly Purity 乾清門.

The Palace of Heavenly Purity 乾清宮 holds the Royal Throne.  It is part of the Inner Court.

The Palace of Heavenly Purity 乾清宮 holds the Royal Throne. It is part of the Inner Court.

The Imperial Gardens 御花園.

The Imperial Gardens 御花園.

Cypress and dragon-shaped waterspouts.

Cypress and dragon-shaped waterspouts.

View of a palace past the cypress trees.

View of a palace past the cypress trees.

A bronze elephant in the Imperial Gardens.

A bronze elephant in the Imperial Gardens.

The rockery in the Imperial Gardens.

The rockery in the Imperial Gardens.

Exit from the Gardens.

Exit from the Gardens.

View towards Prospect Hill 景山.

View towards Prospect Hill 景山.

Panorama of the Forbidden City from Prospect Hill.

Panorama of the Forbidden City from Prospect Hill.

View of the Gate of Divine Prowess 神武門 - the northern exit of the palace complex.

View of the Gate of Divine Prowess 神武門 – the northern exit of the palace complex.

Northern Watchtower 角樓.

Northern Watchtower 角樓.

The moat.

The moat.

Tranquil, idyllic hutong neighborhood right beside the Forbidden City complex.

Tranquil, idyllic hutong neighborhood right beside the Forbidden City complex.

Some of these hutong have been renovated.

Some of these hutong have been renovated.

 

About Kennie Ting

I am a wandering cityophile and pattern-finder who is pathologically incapable of staying in one place for any long period of time. When I do, I see the place from different perspectives, obsessive-compulsively.
Gallery | This entry was posted in Art & Architecture, China, Cities & Regions, Culture & Lifestyle, Landmarks & History, Photography, Travel & Mobility and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Forbidden City 紫禁城, Peking

  1. I went to Beijing in August 2013 and without planning too I did almost exactly what you just recommended. And the view from the pavilion on the hill north of the forbidden city was indeed the best part, that and walking leisurely thought the park it self. Al tough the walk past the walls and the moat was interrupted before we had really began by a huge downpour that lasted for hours…

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