Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Beijing: The Forbidden City (紫禁城)

Of all the monuments, parks and palaces in Beijing, none is more impressive and perhaps more synonymous with ancient China than the Forbidden City, so called because for the first 500 years of its existence, it was off limits to commoners. Anyone caught trespassing would be sentenced to death.

Built in the 15th century by the Ming emperor Yong Le, it is said to have taken over a million labourers and craftsmen 15 years to complete. It was reconstructed in the 18th century after a fire razed most of its wooden structures to the ground and today only the shell of the city remains after having been looted and partially destroyed in the 20th century by Japanese forces and the Kuomintang.

The walled city is surrounded by a 52m moat that freezes over in winter. Hmm... fancy ice-skating round the Forbidden city?

As usual, we entered from the south, through the Meridian Gate which is the gigantic 'u' shaped tower that dwarfed everything in sight.

I guess the Chinese really lived the motto "Size Does Matter". Or was it more of a Freudian compensation psychology going on here? Hmmm....

This was the gate that received the Emperor, and was also the place where, high atop the tower, the emperor would pass decrees as well as mete out punishment to errant ministers and commoners alike.

It was a bright and sunny day, even though the temperature was still in the single digits ºC , but it seemed like the entire population of Beijing had decided to visit the place at the same time!

Passing through the gate, I looked up at the ornately decorated ceiling and marvelled at the attention to detail as well as the creativity of the craftsmen. Wonder if they were paid by the hour.....

As with all imperial buildings, the gates and doors came heavily decorated with golden knobs - 9 rows of them on each panel to symbolise the emperor.

When we entered the main courtyard, we were quite disappointed to the see the central structures which were the Three Main Halls still under reconstruction. It was shrouded in netting and scaffolding all over and thus we could not go too near the building.

Even the Hong Yi Pavillion to the west which looked fully restored was out of bounds to us.

All I could do was just to go back to the previous buildings and take some closeups of the gates. Sigh...

This small gateway was reserved for the ministers as well as Army generals to pass through to the central halls.

Even from the outside, the halls looked very grand as it stood high atop a three-tiered marble terrace decorated with carvings of dragons and turtle heads.

Considering the entire area of the palace was 1 million sq meters, and contained over 800 buildings, we were making good time going through the place, thanks to the fact that 80% of the place is still under wraps for the Olympics!!!!

Actually I wonder if we missed much, as by this time, just about every building, window and roof looked pretty much the same.... Still impressive, but similar.

Just trying out the macro function of my S80. Oh I forgot to mention... I FORGOT TO BRING MY EOS 400D!!!!!

The corner of the roofs were decorated with small figurines of a man riding his erm... animal and was being followed by other mythical creatures. According to the guide, the more figurines there are on the roof, the more important the inhabitants of the building. For example, the emperors' quarters paraded nine or more figures while the concubines had to settle for only three or four.

Yeah, the sun was definitely shining brightly.... and yet my hands and ears were freezing.... What a weird sensation.

This evil-looking figurehead was found on a bronze vat, of which there are 300+ placed throughout the palace grounds. The vats were filled with water to douse any fires that may occur, and apparently there were many.

Another example of Chinglish. ;)

Our camera-shy tourguide who refused to have a closeup shot taken. Here she is waiting for us at the Heavenly Purity Gate.

This is Beijing's highest rated toilet. How posh was it? It had HOT WATER coming out of its taps! Perfect for our numb, freezing hands....

This is a bronze grain measure carved in the shape of a three-legged crane. At first glance, I thought the front leg was its buried head and elongated neck....

And who would've thought to see an actual sundial here, which along with the grain measure symbolised imperial (in)justice.

Some of the smaller buildings like the library and audience hall were richly decorated with colourful tiles and plaster containing murals of phoenices, lotus and dragons.

Only five creatures.... Must have been a low-ranking official.

Dunno why, I just love this picture. It was taken off a side wall of the concubines' quarters.

Towards the northern end of the palace grounds lay the Imperial Garden, a 7000sq meter finely landscaped classical Chinese garden.

Lots of strangely deformed cypress trees lined the walkways and pavillions, providing much needed shelter from the sunshine which by now was beginning to be quite high in the sky. Ears still numb, tho.

This rockery also came with its own warning signboard - "Perilous Hills. No Climbing Please" Hill? That thing's not even twenty feet high. Who lived here? Hobbits?

Before we knew it, we had traversed the entire length of the Forbidden city and were being huddled through the northern Divine Military Genius Gate or Shenwu Men. How I would love to get to the top of that hill (Coal Hill) for a bird's eye view.

This is the northern part of the moat, out of which sprang a gentle breeze as if bidding us a fond farewell and beckoning us to return soon.....


Josh said...

Hi, I'm your silent reader for months. Been to Beijing 4 years ago. Lovely place. Yunan is good to.
Love reading your blog.

Josh said...

I'd linked your blog to mine. Hope u don't mind.