A vast Imperial Palace, the Forbidden City in Beijing can be described as one of those “places to see before you die” destinations.
It is a vast place with a distinctive and coherent architectural style, and while it has been subject to a fair bit of restoration, this seems to have been done fairly accurately, if perhaps a little too enthusiastically. At least it has not been subjected to the “theme park” treatment visited on so many of China’s major sights (though a McDonalds franchise has found its way inside the hallowed walls.) The Forbidden City certainly draws the crowds, in fact the masses of people and long queues for tickets are major downsides of the experience.
While the word “City” may exaggerate the scale slightly, it is too big to get to know in one visit and many of the more interesting parts are off the main visitor trail. While the guided tours do march you through the grandest and most historically significant buildings, these are also (obviously) the most crowded parts. The central trail can also feel a bit repetitive, with one enormous open courtyard leading to a range of golden-roofed pavilions, which in turn leads on to yet another courtyard and another range of similar buildings.
Away from the central route through the complex it is much quieter, with peaceful gardens and minor palaces that have been transformed into exhibition galleries.
Many of the main buildings have been immaculately repainted, which leaves them looking very garish and without any feeling of age. Those palaces which have not had the “like brand new” treatment will probably look much more attractive to western eyes.
Only in a few places can you see old walls marked by history. These are the areas where you can feel that people lived here over hundreds of years.
Some courtyard areas feature potted pomegranate trees, which are heavy with fruit in late summer.
In a future post I will feature some of the beautiful objects on show in the Forbidden City.