The Forbidden City, Beijing

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I was instantly surprised at the size of the Forbidden City. It took us an hour to walk from the bottom walls to the entrance gate, but I am glad we did so. We wandered through local communities, saw children at play, men and  women at work, and walked through tree lined streets where song birds hung in cages, serenading us as we walked by.

The exterior walls of the Forbidden City are soulless, huge grey concrete walls which offer no insight or hints at the beauty that lies within. Upon arrival at the entrance gates you’re met with a contrast of crowds and crowds of people; tourists, police, locals, hawkers, vendors and army cadets practising their drills. Be fooled not by the crowds, the Forbidden city is vast enough to lose them all inside its endless walls and courtyards.

Inside the Forbidden City it’s an oasis of calm and serenity. It’s basically a series of interlinked picturesque courtyards, framed by intricate bridges, grand gateways and splendid palaces and throne rooms. Everywhere you look there is the most beautiful detail. Take, for example, the figurines on the rooftops, the volume of figures (each one unique) dictates the power and aristocracy of the resident – the more the better!

Each building is adorned with incredible detail, from Chinese dragons carved into the water grates, to bricks emblazoned with colourful Chinese mosaic. Every corner you turn provides a new perspective and the alleyways meander endlessly toward the horizon. We wandered through the city, mostly undisturbed and alone, taking advantage of the opportunity to photograph the palaces in solitude, pausing to appreciate the peace and quiet.

To the southern gates are the city / palace gardens. A beautiful networks of granite boulders, ponds, ornate gazebos, summer and winter houses and flowering trees, all offering a injection of additional colour to the concrete landscape. Upon exiting the southern gates you’re facing one of Beijing’s city gardens. It’s worth entering and climbing the hills to obtain a bird’s eye view over the Forbidden City – especially at sunset, as the city is silhouetted by the descending sun and strings of kites fly high in the evening sky. Be prepared to visit a few times during your trip as smog levels can obscure the views.

Further information about the Forbidden City is available in our China book (available to view online).

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