KRISTA MILLS / FOR THE SUN
The Palace of Heavenly Purity was the Emperor’s audience hall inside the Forbidden City, where he would listen to the affairs of state and make decisions. Now it is part of the museum, showing some of the history of China.
It is the end of the school year. After Krista and I finished our contracts we headed to Beijing to see some more of the sights. She suggested to me that we go to the Forbidden City and Palace Museum. I quickly hushed her and looked around. Obviously we could not go because of what it was.
The 20-minute hike to the top of the hill in Jingshan Park is enough of a challenge to keep many of the tourists away. (KRISTA MILLS / FOR THE SUN)
The lion in this picture is supposed to symbolize the Chinese government. The ball below it … that is the world. (KRISTA MILLS / FOR THE SUN)
She told me that I was being silly and that anyone can go and look at the Palace Museum, former home to Emperors of China. I remained skeptical until we were buying the tickets outside the gates. I thought of myself as pretty cool to go someplace so prohibited but it turns out it is a vast complex populated by thousands of tourists of every nationality.
One can almost say it is city-like.
The day was hot and smoggy and when we approached the former palace we could only barely make out the buildings that went on in every direction. There were people everywhere. All of them gazed in awe at the Chinese architecture and classic Chinese gardening.
I was distracted.
Why, I wondered, was it called the "Forbidden City"?
My question was soon answered though by the many signs scattered throughout the city.
- Smoking is strictly forbidden inside the Palace Museum.
- Scratching surfaces and graffiti are strictly prohibited.
- No pets.
All of these made sense and it gave more of a foreboding feeling on our journey. At least some things were against the rules.
There were also plenty of "No Photography" signs. These warnings directed what you could and could not take pictures of. Some of them seemed contradictory. Perfect, I thought to myself, now I understand where the forbidden name comes from.
The rule was ignored though. Everyone, everywhere was taking pictures of everything. Even what was forbidden was not enforced.
We went along with it and got some great pictures of the grounds and palaces. I stopped caring about the name and read the frescoes and information pamphlets. By the end of the tour, everything became clear.
The Forbidden City has this name because historically you needed the emperor’s permission to enter or leave the estate. Access to the huge palace was something the Emperor took very seriously.
The place is gargantuan, covering 720,000 square meters and having close to a thousand buildings. You need multiple trips to see all of it. However, the best view of the Forbidden City is from the hilltop of Jingshan Park behind the Palace Museum. The hill was created using the soil from the moats dug around the Palace and is landscaped in a way that makes it almost natural. A giant Buddhist Shrine sits on top and it is quieter than the Forbidden City, partly because of the climb to get up there. The smog took away from the experience but the view was still pretty breathtaking. Come to think of it, the smog might have caused that too.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition July 7, 2012