Beijing Travel Guide


Forbidden City
Lying at the center of Beijing, the Forbidden City, called gugong, in Chinese, used to be the imperial palace of the Ming and Qing dynasties. It is called the Palace Museum now. It lies 1 kilometer north of the Tian'anmen Square, with its south gate, the Gate of Devine Might (Shenwumen), facing the Jingshan Park. Also known as the Imperial Palace Museum or Gugong, the Forbidden City was the place where the emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties carried out their administration and lived. Now it is open to the public as a palace museum where people can see the great traditional palace architecture, enjoy the treasures kept in the palace, and learn of the legends and anecdotes about the imperial family and the court.

Summer Palace
Equally famous as the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace is called "Yiheyuan" (Garden of Nurtured Harmony) in Chinese. It is up to now the best preserved and the largest imperial gardens in China. You may regret it if you come to Beijing and miss visiting these gardens. Located 15km from Beijing, the Summer Palace is the largest and best-preserved royal garden in China. The Summer Palace has a history of over 800 years. Early in the Jin dynasty, an imperial palace named Golden Hill Palace was built on the present site of the Summer Palace. In 1750,with 4.48 million taels of silver, Emperor Qian Long of the Qing dynasty built the Garden of Clear Ripples here and renamed the hill Longevity Hill to celebrate his mother's birthday.

Lama Temple
Beijing's largest temple is an enlightening sight, ornamented with intriguing statuary, stunning frescoes, tapestries, incredible carpentry and a formidable pair of Chinese lions. Perhaps most impressive of all is an 18m (60ft)high sandalwood statue of the Maitreya (future) Buddha in the Wanfu Pavilion, carved from a single tree. The Lama (or Tibetan) Temple, with its beautifully landscaped gardens, is a temple to die for. The first thing you encounter is the holy shins - they're at eye level - and from there it's a head-tipper to the ceiling as the statue soars up and over the galleries. Flitting around the Buddha's head are what appear to be spinning prayer wheels, emitting a sweet, harmonious whine.

Temple of Heaven Park
The Temple of Heaven is situated in the southern part of the city in Chongwen district. As famous as the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace, it is a "must" for every visitor. In ancient China, the emperor was regarded as the "Son of Heaven", who administered matters on the earth on behalf of the heavenly authority. To show respect to the heaven, ceremonies for sacrifices to heaven were extremely important to the emperor. The temple was built for the worship of heaven and prayers for good harvests. A double wall encloses the temple. The upper northern half is circular, representing Heaven and the southern half is square, representing the Earth, coincident with the Chinese saying of "Round Heaven and Square Earth". The main buildings on the north-south axis are The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest with the Pavilion of Double Ring Longevity on the left clustered at the northern end are the Imperial Vaulted Heaven and the Circular Altar at the southern. A 2.5-meter-high, 360-meter-long causeway connects the two parts and is known as the Vermilion Steps Bridge or the Sacred Way. Four Heavenly gates were built on the cardinal points.

The Great Wall of China
he Great Wall, it is said, is one of the few objects on earth visible from space. It belongs not only to China, but is part of the cultural heritage of the whole world. The Wall extends for a good 3,000 miles from its origin at the seaside in Shanhaiguan (the Old Dragon Head), a seaport along the coast of Bohai Bay in the east, all the way to Jiayu Pass in Gansu Province. Stretching from the eastern part of Liaoning in Northeast China to Lintao (in modern Minxian) on the desert in the northwest of China, it passes through Liaoning, Hebei, Beijing, Shanxi, Inner Mongolia, Shaanxi, Ningxia, and Gansu. The Chinese li equals 0.5 kilometer, so the Great Wall is 10,000 li long in Chinese measurement and hence it is known in Chinese as the Ten-Thousand-Li Long Wall. Serious readers who measure it on the map will find out that the actual distance is only about 3,000 kilometers since the wall zigzags along the mountain ridges!

Tiananmen Square
With a total area of 440,000 square meters, Tiananmen Square is the largest square in the center of Beijing. For over a hundred years, many ceremony and demonstrations have been held here. The grandeur of Tiananmen Gate (Heavenly Peace Gate) is a national symbol, with the Great Hall of the People on the western side and the Museum of the Chinese Revolution and the Museum of Chinese History to its east and west. The Monument to the People's Heroes - the 36 meters obelisk, made of Qingdao granite, dominates the center of the square. The Chairman Mao Memorial Hall and the Qianmen gate, sit in the south. In 1976 another million people jammed the square to pay their last respects to Mao. In 1989 PLA tanks and soldiers cut down pro-democracy demonstrators here. Today the square is a place for people to wander and fly kites or buy balloons for the kids.

Ming Tombs
Ming Tombs consist of mausoleums of 13 Ming emperors. So it is also called Thirteen Ming Tombs. Located on the southern side of the Tianshou Mountain in Changping County about 50 Kilometers north of Beijing. Among the 13 mausoleums, the most famous ones are the Changling and Dingling. Construction of the first tomb, Changling, was started in 1409 and completed in 1427. The whole construction of the 13 Ming Tombs took more than 200 years. A Sacred Way stretches 7 Kilometers from south to north through the center ofthe site. Ming Tombs cover 40 square kilometers. Each tomb was built alongside a mountain, and a river runs through the whole area. They are the best-preserved part of all Chinese imperial tombs.

A hutong is an ancient city alley or lane typical in Beijing, where hutongs run into the several thousand. Surrounding the Forbidden City, many were built during the Yuan (1206-1341), Ming(1368-1628) and Qing(1644-1908) dynasties. A day tour through hutongs gives you fresh insight into Beijing's local life.

Beijing Underground City
In the late 1960s, with a Soviet invasion looming, Beijing's citizens started to go underground. The shadow city was constructed by volunteers and shop assistants. In 10 years about 2000 people with simple tools created this subterranean network, which has now been put to use as warehouses, hotels and restaurants. There are roughly 90 entrances to the complex, all of which are hidden in shops along Qianmen's main streets. A fluorescent wall map reveals the routing of the entire tunnel system. You can visit a section of the tunnels, although there's not much to see.

Drum Tower
This tower is the Big Ben of Beijing. Drums were beaten to mark the hour and time was kept with a water clock. Not surprisingly the rise and rise of Rolex and other watch making companies has made the tower somewhat redundant. The buildings also came close to ruin during the Cultural Revolution when they were reviled as artifacts from a feudal past. The Drum Towers have survived both Swiss engineering and Maoist scorn and are now protected treasures. It's easy to spend money in an inept manner in Beijing: the tourist emporia with their hectares of jade and pearl are enticing but prices are comparable to those you'll pay back home. Beneath the Drum Tower however, opposite a hutong fruit market, is a labyrinth of junk shops that will appeal to op-shoppers and bargain hunters. Antiques, gems and other Chinese goodies are more reasonably priced and there's a greater range of off-beat items.

Simatai Great Wall
While the tourist masses tend to head for Badaling to grope the Great Wall, there are more challenging stretches of this historical and architectural marvel within an easy day trip from Beijing proper. One of the least developed (for now) is Simatai, and it's not for the faint-hearted. The 19km (12mi) section is very steep, with a few slopes built at a 70-degree incline, but it's worth it to see the Wall au naturel, in contrast to the heavily touristed Badaling and Mutianyu sections, which are so well restored they could have been built yesterday.

This fourth-largest city in China is Beijing's port. Officially a special municipality belonging to no province, Tianjin is nicknamed 'Shanghai of the North' because of its history as a foreign concession port, its Europeanised architecture and its impressive industrial output. Apart from wandering around imagining you're in Vienna, you should investigate Tianjin's antique market, a massive collection of junk and gems which miraculously survived the Cultural Revolution.

Marco Polo Bridge
Marco Polo Bridge, also known as Lugou bridge, is located in the southwest suburbs of Beijing, about 15 kilometers away from downtown. The Bridge is situated at a strategic point on the one overland route to the capital from the south. It is one of earliest segmented stone arch bridge. This bridge was recorded in the travelogue of Marco Polo, an Italian professional traveler who went all the way to China during the Yuan Dynasty (1271--1368). Marco bridge was described by poets as a place where people would send off their beloved ones, or friends. The best time to visit it is at dawn, when a Morning Moon is hanging over the sky. In ancient times the bridge was renowned for its spectacular views of the moon during the Mid-autumn Festival. In the Mingchang period (1190-1208) of the Jin dynasty, the bridge was listed into the "Eight Scenic Spots of Yanjing (Beijing)" under the title "Lugou Xiaoyue" (Morning Moon Over Lugou Bridge), which has remained throughout the Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties.

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