Sunday, November 18, 2012


Another early start and no time afforded to get a coffee meant I had a splitting headache (and an empty belly) as we walked over to Tiananmen Square.
Our hotel was located only a few blocks from the Qianmen or Zhengyangmen (South) gate of the ancient walled Imperial City and marks the far end of the Square today.

Tiananamen Square is the third largest public square in the world at 109 acres and is perfectly rectangular.
The Square has existed in a smaller form since 1651, but  has been expanded and altered several times since. It is so large in scale that even the thousands of daily visitors and  dense military and police prescence are completely dwarfed by its enormity.

Great Hall of The People

At the far nothern end of the Square is the Tiananmen Gate- the gate into the Forbidden City.

The Monument to the People’s Heroes and Mausoleum of Mao ZeDong are located approximately in the middle of the square between the Qianmen gate and Tiananamen Gate, upon the site where the ancient Gate of China once stood.

Monument to the People's Heroes, National Museum of China behind

Flanking the sides are the National Museum of China, and the Great Hall of the People (Chinese Congress building). Our guide proudly remarked that the Great Banquet Hall inside the congress building holds up to 5000 dining guests at one time.
I replied scathingly that I bet they serve coffee there, and fixed my attention on some massive flower sculptures erected for the recent national holiday.

Flower sculpture, Tiananamen Square

The Tiananmen Square student protests of 1989 are a completely taboo subject- nothing is published or discussed about them in China by anyone. I bent down on one knee -ostensibly to tie my shoe - on the spot upon which I believed the young man faced down the tank alone, and touched the ground with open hands.

We walked the length of the gigantic square, crossed the busy multi-lane street, and crossed the massive marble bridges over the moat to enter The Forbidden City via Tiananmen Gate.

Tiananamen Gate, to the Forbidden City
The Forbidden City is surrounded by a  26 ft high, 28 feet wide wall and a 20ft deep by 171 ft wide moat.

Southern (Meridian ) Gate's moat, The Forbidden City

Built by the Ming Dynasty between 1406 and 1420, the Forbidden City consists of 980 buildings, over 9000 separate rooms and covers 720,000 square meters.

Stunning roof detail, The Forbidden City
For close 500 years, it served as the home of emperors and their households, as well as the ceremonial and political center of Chinese government.

Entrance to the Forbidden City, and moat

One could spend a few days here exploring the enormous complex. We visited a few of the highlights, including the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the Palace of Heavenly Purity and the Imperial Garden.

Imperial Garden, the Forbidden City

One of the notable architectural points of the Forbidden City is the yellow roofs- yellow being the Emperor’s colour.

Hall of Supreme Harmony, The Forbidden City

As in other ancient buildings in China, roof eaves are decorated with “roof guardians”, but inside the Forbidden City, the guardians are led by a phoenix and followed by a dragon.
As with other roof guardian decorations, the number of guardians denotes the building’s relative importance, with the only most crucial of buildings boasting the full nine “sons of the dragon’’.  The Hall of Supreme Harmony in the Forbidden City boasts a tenth- a hangshi.

Roof detail and 10 roof guardians, Hall of Supreme Harmony

As we exited through the Northern (Meridian) gate of the City, we looked above us to Jingshan Park and its stunning pavilion, a raised park made with the earth excavated to construct the moat.

Jingshan Park and pavillion, Beijing

After a quick lunch, Suzanne headed back to the Silk Market for a second fitting on her new wardrobe, so David, Helen and I made our way via a 40 minute metro to the Summer Palace together.

The Summer Palace, Beijing

When the Jin Dynasty emperor moved his capital to the Beijing area, he had a palace built on the site of the hill where the Summer Palace now stands @1150 AD. These palace grounds were expanded over the following 500 years by subsequent emperors, who used the palace as a lushly planted refuge from Beijing’s summer heat and humidity.

A gingko tree, aflame

The Summer Palace, houses a large variety of palaces, gardens, and other classical-Chinese-style architectural buildings, dominated by Longevity Hill and the Kunming Lake. It covers an expanse of 2.9 square kilometers, three quarters of which is water.

The Marble Boat, The Summer Palace

Kunming Lake covering 2.2 square kilometers was entirely man-made wi and the excavated soil was then used to build Longevity Hill. The Marble Boat was built by Empress Cixi in 1860.

Helen and David and I spent a couple relaxing hours there, refreshed by the water and densly wooded glens, before meeting up with Suzanne and our guide for  our “Last Supper” of Peking (Beijing) Duck. David and Helen were leaving for the UK early the next morning.

Peking Duck

The oily-skinned roasted duck is cut into thin slices and served with green onions and bamboo shoots to be rolled itogether in a crepe with sauce. We also enjoyed Lions Heads- massive pork meatballs served on a bed of lettuce. We soon made short work of that memorable meal!
We gravely exchanged email adresses for continued correspondence, then ventured to the market area for a few last minute souvenirs before heading to bed.

Dumplings are lovely, but liquor is quicker!

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