It's a foggy day in Beijing, dreary weather for touring. But it will take more than mist to dampen my spirits -- today, my first in China, we are visiting the Forbidden City, one of the most renown sites in the whole country.
This elaborate complex of palaces and accompanying buildings was constructed more than 600 years ago, and occupied by members of the Ming Dynasty -- China's last emperors -- until 1921. During that time, it was strictly off-limits to commoners. Only emperors, their entourages and other public officials were allowed inside this massive and ornate complex. Thus the royal palace came to be known as the "Forbidden City."
After the fall of the dynasty, the new Chinese government opened the complex as the Palace Museum, but it is still widely known as the Forbidden City. Throngs of visitors come to see the craftsmanship and artwork on the palace walls and roofs, to walk in the footsteps of former emperors, and to learn more about this fascinating era in Chinese history. For a 600-year old attraction, the Forbidden City is huge -- our group spent several hours walking through from the north end to the south side. Along the way, Chris Lee, owner of China Plus, and our local guide Eddy told us stories of the emperors who lived in the city, as well as their harems and armies. All told, there are 9,999 rooms in the city, they tell us. This was by design, as ancient Chinese beliefs held that there are 10,000 rooms in heaven.
The history is fascinating, but for me, it was the art of the Forbidden City that was truly stunning. The painting, carving and architecture represent the best work of the Mind dynasty, and have been remarkably well preserved over 600 years. With eye-catching designs and brilliant colors, the wonders of this city shine bright on even the foggiest of days.
One of the Emperor's many thrones.
The Royal Hall
Iconic brass orbs adorn the gates to the Forbidden City.