Whilst in Beijing we visited the Forbidden City (紫禁城 or Zǐjinchéng). The Forbidden City was once the capital of China where the King/Emperor resided and is now probably the most popular tourist destination in Beijing if you exclude the Great Wall.
We went during the weekend of Labour Day so it was extraordinarily busy. As soon as we exited the subway at Tienanmen Square we we almost crushed by the crowd of people trying to get into the square.
The entrance to the Forbidden City was just as crowded. As we crossed the bridge to the city we noticed that despite there being several uniformed soldiers around, the real security were plain-clothed.
Once inside we had to queue up for tickets. Again, there were a lot of people so the queues were long. I was beginning to think that we had come on the wrong day. I’ve seen pictures of how crowded the Great Wall can get and I was now seeing that it would be the same in the Forbidden City today.
Thankfully I was wrong. There were several ticket stalls set up and the queues went down pretty quickly. We made our way through the gate into the Forbidden City proper.
As we went through the Meridian Gate (午门 or Wǔmén) we noticed that everyone would touch the metal studs on the gate for luck. You could see on them that the ones most touched had the colour worn out of them.
Once inside the Tardis effect manifested again. In front of us was a huge square which was, despite the huge number of people, mostly empty. We could now wander around at our own pace to see the sights.
A waterway stretched across the middle of the square, and on the other side we could see the Gate of Supreme Harmony (太和门 or Tàihémén).
Once through this gate we came into Harmony Square and could now see the Hall of Supreme Harmony (太和殿 or Tàihédiàn). There were a couple of large incense burners in the Square, and the Hall itself had a tortoise statue, a sundial and a weight that define a jin – a basic unit of weight in China (which in modern times is defined as half a kilogram).
The Hall contained several buildings which we were unable to see inside. My girlfriend said that when she came here as a child people were actually allowed inside these buildings. There were some parts were you could see the throne rooms that were inside the build, but you had to swim through a mass of people just to catch a glimpse.
After wandering the halls it was lunch time. Luckily some shops were nearby and we were able to get some overpriced microwave chicken burgers.
We were near the north side of the City now. The Palace of Heavenly Purity was closed, so we wandered the Imperial Gardens instead. Apparently the King was not allowed to leave the palace, so he would spend his days wandering the gardens instead.
After this we returned south on the western side, through the rooms that were occupied by the various Empresses and concubines of the King. Every courtyard had one or two trees planted in it.
It was around this time I realised I was completely lost. My girlfriend had the map so was guiding the way, but I had no idea where we were in the City.
Somehow we ended up on the eastern side, where we had to pay more money to see the Nine Dragons Screen and the Palace of Tranquil Longevity.
At the end we exited through the northern Gate of Divine Might (神武门 or Shénwǔmén) and were met with the usual hustle and bustle of Beijing. It was as if the city had disappeared behind us and we had returned to the modern Beijing.