Day 15

Thursday 3rd March

Our mission today was to explore the Forbidden City. This has to be entered through Tian’an Men Square, which as we have already seen is the world’s largest public square, a mass of paving stones and a giant collection of 1950s Soviet-style buildings and ringed by perimeter fences that mean everyone has to undergo security checks and bag searches. This morning it felt like every Chinese person was going to where we wanted to go so that to pass through security took 40 minutes! Most of these people were lining the Square. We later discovered that China’s ‘Political Season’ was beginning in the Great Hall of the People on the Squares western side. Politicians from all sides were arriving for a congress that is likely to last until mid March.


We, however, had no problems entering the Forbidden City.

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This is China’s largest and best preserved collection of ancient buildings and yet another record breaker as the largest palace complex in the world. The City is surrounded by a 52m wide moat and towering walls. It is so called because it was off limits to most people for 500 years as it was the reclusive home of two Imperial dynasties until the last Qing emperor was overthrown. Rather confusingly when buying a ticket (for which one has to show ID) the city is known as the Palace Museum. All of this is entered through the Meridian Gate. After this one passes through a vast complex running north to south of courtyards, gateways and Imperial halls. These were largely ceremonial whereas the smaller buildings and more compact courtyards to the east and west were used in everyday life. The whole complex was completed in 1420 and some people think that the modern world actually intruded in China’s past when in 1949 the public were finally admitted into the City. There are five marble bridges that span the Golden Water which flows from west to east in a channel designed to resemble the jade belt worn by court officials.


The Gate of Supreme Harmony gives access to the heart of the Forbidden City and is guarded by two large bronze lions which are Imperial symbols of power and dignity. The Gate of Heavenly Purity is the last building before the inner court where the emperor and empress actually lived. It is the oldest building in the complex as it is the only one not to have been burnt down.

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After a tiring walk and a touch of palace fatigue it was time for some chicken spring rolls and a refreshing beer!! This evening our final dinner in Beijing is going to be in Le Cabernet French restaurant – one of the best we have come across. We have been reliably and efficiently served by ‘Stefan’ and where else could one be served by ‘David Beckham’?!! The food has been superb, the ambience terrific and the team will certainly miss this part of France! Bonsoir, a bientot et merci beaucoup.

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