The tangible symbol of Celectial Empire’s attempt to fence oneself off other world and the biggest construction has ever been created by human beings, the Great wall is 8851,9 km length. The erection began in 3rd century BC to unite the state and resist external invades. The wall was dotted with watchtowers constructed so that each of them might be observed from two adjacent. It was possible to transmit drum or smoke signals from tower to tower so the wall played prominent role as an information exchange node for the country.
There are some sections of the wall to visit near Beijing: Badaling (80 km from Beijing), Juyongguan (62 km), Mutianyu (95 km), Simatai (120 km), Jinshanling (125 km).
Badaling is one the nearest part to Beijing and definitely the most popular. This part of the wall was built in the beginning of XVI century, restored and allowed for public access in 1957. Badaling was the first section opened for visits. The place has quite developed infrastructure as one of the most popular attractions in the country, so there are a number of cafees, restaurants and hotels around. Great Wall Circle Vision Theatre was opened there in 1990 to broadcast films about Great Wall. Badaling cable car allows watching the wall briefly and comfortably.
On the south from Badaling lays Juyongguan section of the wall. The section is one of the most important strategic points of the wall and the majority of attacks of enemies and rebels has been happened right here. Juyongguan was also the main defence for Beijing itself. Only edges of the section were restored, the middle of the part remains untouched so this is a good way to take a look at original Great Wall.
Further on the south is Mutianyu section which is, unlike others, equipped with arch-shaped gun-ports to ward off enemies attacks. There are 22 watchtowers on the section as well. The section was initially build in VII century and later rebuilt in XIV. Mutianyu is situated on the top of the mountain ridge as the others and there are two cable cars to lift up to different towers of the section. There is also the garden of stones near the foot of the ridge.
Simatai part retained original appearance of XIV year when it was rebuild. The section was closed in 2010 and partially opened. It was only 10 watchtowers opened in March 2014. The section is quite step as it runs through some mountains, precipice and plateaus. Parts of the wall are also dissimilar – sometimes it is double alternating with single walls.
Jinshanling is the less visited and the most diverse section. It also was not repaired and dotted with 67 watchtowers and 2 beacons. The section is 125 km far from Beijing and is de facto situated on the border with Hebei province. This part of the wall has huge stone bars as a base and made from special bricks about 12 kg each. There is a cable car as well to make an excursion as well.
Whatever section to choose for visiting, this astonishing sight listed in UNESCO World Heritage list is really worth to visit.
Forbidden City is a huge palatial complex (about 720 sq.m) situated near Tiananmen Square right in the centre of Beijing. Being one of the five most known palaces all over the world (Versailles palace, Buckingham palace, White house and Moscow Kremlin) and the biggest one, the Forbidden City is mesmerising museum in the open air and the epitome of Chinese palatial architecture.
Forbidden City or Gugong, as it is also known in China, had been the official Emperor residence since XV century and, after the last Emperor was dethroned, became allowed for public access. Ordinary people were previously prohibited to visit the Palace. That right was reserved for Emperor and the court, hence the title was.
Gugong has been walled with specially designed bricks and additionally moated to secure it. Inner Court – the northern part of the complex served as a dwelling for Emperor and his family, whereas the southern part – Outer Court had mainly ceremonial purpose. All of the buildings and the location itself permeated with symbolism and philosophical context. Facade of all of the buildings and the main entrance faced south. Three imperial gardens, as a part and parcel of a Chinese palace, allow enjoying quiet and serene landscapes.
Hall of Supreme Harmony is one of the most important and the highest building of the Outer Court. The Hall had been for a long time the centre of state power and the biggest wooden building in the country. Hall of Preserving Harmony is noticeable as a greatest Chinese stone carving masterpiece.
Two palaces – Palace of Heavenly Purity and Palace of Tranquil Longevity are the base of the Inner Court ensemble. The former was the official residence of Emperor and the latter – the one for Empress and the relatives.
Gugong has officially been turned into museum in 1925 and now has one of the biggest imperial collections in the country, holding more than a million artefacts. The Forbidden City was the first of Chinese objects listed in UNESCO World Heritage list in 1987.
Main square of China situated in the very heart of Beijing south from Emperor’s Palace. There’s enough space for more than million people and the whole area of the square is 440,000 sq. m.
Zhengyangmen gate on the south of the square is the largest of nine Beijing city gates. In former times the right of use the gate was solely the prerogative of the Emperor family members.
Gigantic Mao Zedong Memorial Hall with its 44 granite pillars is on the north from Zhengyangmen gate. The mausoleum was opened in 1977, one year after Mao’s death. Thousands of people all around China had free work shifts to whip-round for erecting the mausoleum. The personality of Chairman Mao is so popular in China so it’s literally impossible to come in to the mausoleum because of kilometres-long queues of those willing to see the embalmed body of the Chairman.
National Museum of China on the east of Tinanmen Square opposes the Great Hall of the People on the west of that. The museum was organized in 2003 as a merge of Museum of the Chinese Revolution and Museum of the Chinese History and exposes items from 1.7 million years ago to the end of last imperial dynasty.
The centre of the square is occupied by impressive 38-meters height Monument to the People's Heroes erected after heroes of XIX and XX centuries revolutions.
On the north of the square the splendid Gate of Heavenly Peace guard the entrance to the Forbidden City.
The Temple of Heaven
The sky has especially been reverenced in the Celestial Empire. For more than 500 years running, on winter solstice day Emperors of China prayed and sacrificed in the Temple of Heaven for a rich harvest on the Altar of Prayer for Good Harvests.
Tiantan or the Temple of Heaven, the only round-shaped temple in Beijing built in 1420, is the largest cultural temple in the world. Initially the temple was erected as the Temple of Heaven and Earth, thus it has square shape in South (Earth) and round shape in North (Heaven). The Temple became the Temple of Heaven after the separated Temple of Earth was built in 1503.
This 2.73 sq. km monument has been the central and the most important Chinese ritual construction for centuries. Double walled, the complex consists of inside part with 5287 meters-long wall and outside part with its 6625 meters-long wall. Three main parts of Tiantan are the Circular Mound Altar, the Imperial Vault of Heaven and the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. All of the roofs of the complex faced with deep blue tiles embodying the color of the sky.
36 meters in height and in diameter the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is an amazing three-layer construction supported with 28 pillars on a marble base.
One-layered the Imperial Vault of Heaven was erected as a place to store the sacred plate of Supreme Ruler of the Universe. The plate was lying on the Circular Mound Altar during the ceremonies, when the Emperor beseeched for a necessary weather. The Alter designed so that it amplifies every whisper in the centre of it to assist the Emperor’s words were heard on Heaven.
Magnificent the Temple of Heaven is a masterpiece of human’s art and it was listed in UNESCO World Heritage list.
Longevity Hill, which is 15 km from the centre of Beijing, had attracted Chinese emperors as a perfect place for having a rest since Jin Dynasty (XII century) when the first Emperor Palace was erected there. The current ensemble is a reconstruction of Qing Dynasty Palace originally built in 1750. 300.59 hectares of the Summer palace or Yiheyuan is mainly taken up by artificial Kunming Lake and the whole ensemble is one of the best specimens of traditional Chinese horticulture.
The whole complex is subdivided onto the parts as follows: the Court, the Lake and two parts of Longevity Hill – front and rear. There are a number of pavilions spread by the whole hill.
Probably the most remarkable among all objects of Yiheyuan are the Palace of Virtue and Harmony (Deheyuan), the Long Corridor, the Marble Boat, the Seventeen-Arch Bridge and Suzhou Street.
Deheyuan or the Palace of Virtue and Harmony was initially built as a theatre for Cixi Empress but now used as an exhibition of luxury artifacts of that era.
Further, there is 728-meters long gallery called the Long Corridor. More than 14,000 paintings, illustrating stories from literature and mythology, decorate the gallery. The Long Corridor has been built as a way from the Gate for Greeting the Moon to the Marble Boat built in 1885 to celebrate 50-years jubilee of Cixi Empress. There is the Cloud-Dispelling Hall with its 47-meters high pagoda in the centre of the Long Corridor.
Suzhou Water Street was created as a replica of Shantang Street to entertain the Court of Cixi Empress.
The pearl of the ensemble is an artificial Nanhu island in the southern part of the lake, embodying an ancient Chinese legend about a paradise island floating in ocean. The Seventeen-Arch Bridge links the island with the main park.
UNESCO recognized Yiheyuan as the most extraordinary royal summer palace and it has been included in the World Heritage list.
Ming emperors ruled Chinese Empire from 1368 to 1644. The third Ming emperor – Yongle made Beijing the capital of the Empire and at the same time with construction of Emperor Palace he started erecting his tomb near Mountain of Heavenly Longevity – Tianshou which was situated about 50 km from the capital. Since that, 13 Ming emperors, 23 empresses and a number of their relatives were buried in the necropolis. By the number of emperors, Chinese name of the complex “Shisanling” means thirteen tombs. Now the necropolis is the part of “Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties” memorial included in UNESCO World Heritage list.
The way to the necropolis lies through Spirit way – a road “guarded” from both sides by statues of peoples and mythical horses, lions, elephants, camels and xiezhi who able to distinguish true and lie and are symbols of justice and law in Chinese culture.
Currently only 2 out of 13 Emperor’s mausoleums are allowed for public access – Changling and Dingling, though all of them are well preserved.
Changling contains the remains of Yongle emperor – the founder of the necropolis. It’s the biggest and the best preserved Ming tomb. The wall of the memorial is 1 km on each side. There are two courtyards there and the Blessing and Grace Palace situated in the second of them. It’s the only preserved ground memorial palace among all Ming tombs. There is currently a museum of Ming dynasty in the palace where a masterpieces of that epoch could be observed.
Dingling (Tomb of Stability), the third Ming tomb by scale, became the last home for Zhang Juzheng and two his empresses. The memorial is a fruit of 6-years labor of 600,000 workers. Right after site of entry there are long road to Minglou tower. Two ceremonial chambers on both sides are ruined now. The tomb itself, called Underground Palace, is located at a depth of 27 meters in Baoding tumulus. The palace consists of five huge marble-revetted chambers with remains of Wanli emperor and his family in large boxes as well as different kind of utensils. The tomb remained completely intacted before excavations in 1956 and there has been found more than 3000 valuable pieces of Ming culture. The other Ming tombs, except Dingling, have not been excavated.
Historically Chinese residences had siheyuan composition when four buildings surrounded one courtyard. Alleys between two lines of such constructions called hutongs, shaping the appearance of Chinese towns and cities for centuries. Even though hutongs are vanishing, some old districts of Beijing which have deliberately been preserved intact.
These Beijing hutongs form peculiar inner city humming with activity. It is supposed there are about 360 named hutongs and a number of unnamed. Houses are mainly single-storey with no windows facing on street. Doors are usually red and often richly decorated with traditional wood and stone carving. Sometimes there are lion sculptures “guarding” the entrance.
Wide variety of hutongs, from twisting and narrow to quite wide, narrates its own history of the city. Hutong Nanluogu Xiang is one of the oldest – it saw more than seven centuries. This is quite vivid street full of little shops and cafe. Cramped 70sm-wide Qian Shi Hutong was used for change money and there was absolutely no space for a pickpocket to run away so the place was especially secure. More than 20 turns of Beixinqiao Hutong make it complex as a labyrinth. Dong Jiaomin Hutong is the longest; its length is more than 6 km. The shortest is Guantong Hutong with its 30 meters.
This piece of Beijing allows feeling indigenous colour and peculiarity of real China. Hutongs are the place where the time itself literally got lost and stopped.