Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven and Summer Palace
Trip Start Jun 16, 2008
36Trip End Jul 20, 2008
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Our first stop was the Forbidden City. It was absolutely impressive!! First, it was just a thrill to be in a place that was the home to 34 emperors of China. Even a century ago the entire country was closed to foreigners and so to be in the Forbidden City which was realy exclusive was quite a thrill!!
I was shocked at how enormous it was. I can see why it is called a "City". We would pass through a palace/building and itto a massive square that was surrounded on all sides by huge buildings/ So of courser since the suare and surrounding buildings were so grand and large it seemed as though that was it. But then we would pass through that square and through a gate and into another huge suare surrounded by buildings and then another and another and another. The most striking thing was that all of the buildings were red and the roofs were yellow/gold.
Lying at the center of Beijing, the Forbidden City, called Gu Gong in Chinese, was the imperial palace during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Now known as the Palace Museum, it is to the north of Tiananmen Square. Rectangular in shape, it is the world's largest palace complex and covers 74 hectares. Surrounded by a six meter deep moat and a ten meter high wall are 9,999 buildings. The wall has a gate on each side. Opposite the Tiananmen Gate, to the north is the Gate of Divine Might (Shenwumen), which faces Jingshan Park. The distance between these two gates is 960 meters, while the distance between the gates in the east and west walls is 750 meters. There are unique and delicately structured towers on each of the four corners of the curtain wall. These afford views over both the palace and the city outside. The Forbidden City is divided into two parts. The southern section, or the Outer Court was where the emperor exercised his supreme power over the nation. The northern section, or the Inner Court was where he lived with his royal family. Until 1924 when the last emperor of China was driven from the Inner Court, fourteen emperors of the Ming dynasty and ten emperors of the Qing dynasty had reigned here. Having been the imperial palace for some five centuries, it houses numerous rare treasures and curiosities. Construction of the palace complex began in 1407, the 5th year of the Yongle reign of the third emperor of the Ming dynasty. It was completed fourteen years later in 1420. It was said that a million workers including one hundred thousand artisans were driven into the long-term hard labor.
The next stop on the tour was the Temple of Heaven. It is much bigger than the Forbidden City and smaller than the Summer Palace with an area of about 2,700,000 square meters. The Temple was built in 1420 A.D. during the Ming Dynasty to offer sacrifice to Heaven. As Chinese emperors called themselves 'The Son of Heaven' ,they dared not to build their own dwelling,'Forbidden City' bigger than a dwelling for Heaven. The Temple of Heaven is enclosed with a long wall. The northern part within the wall is semicircular symbolizing the heavens and the southern part is square symbolizing the earth. The northern part is higher than the southern part. This design shows that the heaven is high and the earth is low and the design reflected an ancient Chinese thought of 'The heaven is round and the earth is square'. The Temple is divided by two enclosed walls into inner part and outer part. The main buildings of the Temple lie at the south and north ends of the middle axis line of the inner part. The most magnificent buildings are The Circular Mound Altar (Yuanqiutan), Imperial Vault of Heaven (Huangqiongyu) and Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest (Qiniandian) from south to north. Also, there are some additional buildings like Three Echo Stones and Echo Wall.Almost all of the buildings are connected by a wide bridge called Vermilion Steps Bridge (Danbiqiao) or called Sacred Way. The Circular Altar has three layered terraces with white marble. During the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368 A.D. - 1911 A.D.), the emperors would offer sacrifice to Heaven on the day of the Winter Solstice every year. This ceremony was to thank Heaven and hope everything would be good in the future. The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest is a big palace with round roof and three layers of eaves. Inside the Hall are 28 huge posts. The four posts along the inner circle represent four seasons-spring, summer, autumn and winter; the 12 posts along the middle circle represent the 12 months; and 12 posts along the outer circle represent 12 Shichen (Shichen is a means of counting time in ancient China. One Shichen in the past equaled two hours and a whole day was divided into 12 Shichens). The roof is covered with black, yellow and green colored glaze representing the heavens, the earth and everything on earth. The Hall has a base named Altar for Grain Prayers which is made of three layers of white marble and has a height of six meters. Another important building in Temple of Heaven is Imperial Vault of Heaven. If you look at it from far away, you will find that the Vault is like a blue umbrella with gold head. The structure of it is like that of Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, but smaller in size. The structure was made of bricks and timber. The Vault was used to place memorial tablets of Gods. White marble railings surround the vault.
The nice thing at the Temple of Heaven was that many elderly Chinese locals gather here daily for exercise, dance, cards and games. The Temple was really impressive. The emperors used to visit here to pray for a good harvest.
Next our tour stopped at a medical facility. The doctor explained how Chinese go to doctors when they are healthy as opposed to when they are sick in the Western world. He explained how herbs are used and beneficial.
Later we drove to the Summer Palace. We walked around the lake to the Summer Palace. Unfortunately the smoggy, foggy weather made visibility poor. Otherwise I am sure that the Palaca, situated high above a large hill and by the lake, would have been even more impressive. After walking along the lake there was a long, long corridor that was beautifully painted. Like the Temple of Heaven, the corridor bent 90 degrees along the way to ward off evil spirits. Even here there were more paparatzi.
Situated in the western outskirts of Haidian District, the Summer Palace is 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) from central Beijing. Having the largest royal park and being well preserved, it was designated, in 1960 by the State Council, as a Key Cultural Relics Protection Site of China. Containing examples of the ancient arts, it also has graceful landscapes and magnificent constructions. The Summer Palace is the archetypal Chinese garden, and is ranked amongst the most noted and classical gardens of the world. In 1998, it was listed as one of the World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. Constructed in the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234), during the succeeding reign of feudal emperors; it was extended continuously. By the time of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), it had become a luxurious royal garden providing royal families with rest and entertainment. Originally called 'Qingyi Garden' (Garden of Clear Ripples), it was know as one of the famous 'three hills and five gardens' (Longevity Hill, Jade Spring Mountain, and Fragrant Hill; Garden of Clear Ripples, Garden of Everlasting Spring, Garden of Perfection and Brightness, Garden of Tranquility and Brightness, and Garden of Tranquility and Pleasure). Like most of the gardens of Beijing, it could not elude the rampages of the Anglo-French allied force and was destroyed by fire. In 1888, Empress Dowager Cixi embezzled navy funds to reconstruct it for her own benefit, changing its name to Summer Palace (Yiheyuan). She spent most of her later years there, dealing with state affairs and entertaining. In 1900, it suffered again, being ransacked by the Eight-Power Allied Force. After the success of the 1911 Revolution, it was opened to the public.
When the tour finished I walked along Wangfujing Street...again. I walked down the back streets and by many of the food vendors selling starfish, seahorses and scorpions on a stick. Sound yummy?
Then I sat out on Wangfujing and had a couple drinks in the "beer garden".
After I went for a traditional duck dinner. It was great. They wheeled the duck out on a cart and cut it up there. They served it to me on various plates; I think each plate had different parts. I think one of the plates may have had the heart. But the parts that I ate were really good. They serve it with hot pancakes that you roll the duck up inside.
To end the day I walked along a street perpendicular to Wangfujing. Here was a long row of vendors selling all kinds of things meant to be eaten such as snake, centipede, larva, seahorse, fried scorpions, live scorpions, sea urchin, starfish, insects and more.
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