Beijing: Main Sights
The Forbidden City
Tiananmen Square is the largest open urban square in the world. Located near the centre of Beijing, it is named after the Tiananmen (Gate of heavenly peace), which separates it from the Forbidden City. Tiananmen Square has been the site of many major cultural events in China’s long history.
Tiananmen Square has been the site of a number of political events and student protests. These include the proclamation of the People’s Republic of China by on October 1, 1949; annual mass military displays on all subsequent National Days until October 1st 1959; the 1984 military parade for the 35th anniversary of the People's Republic of China and the 50th anniversary in 1999; and for mass rallies during the Cultural Revolution.
The site has also played host to a series of demonstrations by authorities in power, including the Allied Army's Victory March in 1900 celebrating their occupation of Beijing after the Boxer Rebellion, Zhang Xun on June 1917 in remembrance of his restoration of imperial order, the institution of the puppet regime under Japanese rule, and the parade of Republican troops on the recapture of Beijing.
It has also been the site of a number of protest movements. Perhaps most famously the Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989, which resulted in the deaths of Chinese protesters in the streets to the west of the square and adjacent areas, according to the Chinese Red Cross, there were 2,600 casualties, while witnesses reported to seeing more. These figures are greatly disputed by the Chinese Government, whose official figures are much less.
The Forbidden City was the Imperial Palace in Beijing from the Ming to the Oing dynasties. It is located in the centre of Beijing and now houses the Palace Museum. For almost 500 years, it was the home of the Emperor and the centre of all political and ceremonial aspects of the Chinese government in Beijing.
Built from 1406 to 1420, the complex consists of 980 surviving buildings with 8,707 bays of rooms and covers 720,000 square metres (7,800,000 square feet). The Palace complex exemplifies Chinese palatial architecture, and has been a huge influence on cultural and architectural developments both in East Asia and the Rest of the world. The Forbidden City in Beijing was listed as a world heritage site in 1987 and houses the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world.
Since 1925 the Forbidden City has been under the charge of the Palace Museum, whose extensive collection of artefacts and artwork were expanded by the imperial collections of the Ming and Oing dynasties. Some of the museums former collection is now displayed in the National Palace Museum in Taipei, which split from the institution after the Chinese Civil War.
The Great Wall - Mutianyu
The Great Wall of China is one of the most famous structures in the world, and a must see if you are to visit Beijing. Just 70km North East of Beijing, the Mutianyu is a section of the Great Wall of China located in Huairou County. The Mutianyu section is connected with Jiankou in the west and Lianhuachi in the east. As one of the best-preserved parts of the Great Wall, the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall used to serve as the northern barrier defending the capital and the imperial tombs.
The Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China was first built in the mid 6th century during the Northern Oi, making it older than the Badaling section. Today most parts of it are well preserved and the Mutianyu Great Wall has the largest construction scale and best quality among all sections of Great Wall of China.
Built mainly with granite, the wall is 7-8 meters high and the top is 4-5 meters wide. Compared with other sections of Great Wall, Mutianyu Great Wall possesses some unique characteristics in its construction.
Olympic Village - Bird's Nest & Water Cube
In 2008 China amazed the world with the groundbreaking architecture of its two flagship structures for the Olympic Games:
The ‘Bird’s Nest’ Stadium, and the Water Cube.
Arguably the most recognisable structure of the 2008 Olympics, Beijing National Stadium, to give it its official title, is located in the Olympic Green. The $423 million stadium is the world's largest steel structure and was designed by the Swiss architecture firm Herzog & Meuron. The design, selected in April 2003, originated from the study of Chinese Ceramics. It implemented steel beams in order to hide supports for the retractable roof, giving the stadium the appearance of a ‘Bird's nest’. Ironically, the retractable roof was later removed from the design after inspiring the stadium's most recognizable aspect. A shopping mall and a hotel are planned for construction in order to increase the use of the stadium, which has had trouble attracting events. Tours are available on a daily basis if you are interested in the finer points of the stadium’s architecture.
The Beijing National Aquatics Centre, more popularly known as the ‘Water Cube’ is the aquatic centre that was built alongside the National Stadium in order to host the Swimming events for the 2008 Olympics. The building’s actual shape is that of a rectangular box, a Cuboid. The building also took five years to complete and during the Olympic Games of 2008, swimmers broke 25 world records.
The Summer Palace in Beijing is well worth a visit. The Chinese name ‘Yihe yuan’ translates as: ‘Gardens of Nurtured Harmony’. Longevity Hill, which is 60 meters high and the Kunming Lake mainly dominate the Summer Palace. The central Kunming Lake, covering 2.2 square kilometres was entirely man made and the excavated soil was used to build Longevity Hill. In its compact 70,000 square meters of building space, you will find a variety of palaces, gardens, and other classical-style architectural structures to wander around at your own pace, appreciating peace and harmony in an otherwise chaotic city.
Temple of Heaven
The Temple of Heaven, which translates literally to ‘The Alter Of Heaven’, is a complex of Taoist buildings situated in South Eastern urban Beijing in Xuanwu District. The Emperors of the Ming and Oing dynasties visited the complex to pray for the harvest. It is regarded as a Taoist temple although Chinese ‘Heaven’ worship predates that of Taoism, and was more likely carried out by the monarchs of the day.
The site of the thirteen tombs from Ming dynasty measuring about 40sq.km/25sq.miles lies in valley of the Tianshoushan hill, almost 50km/31 miles to the north of Beijing. It is the "monumental graveyard" of the Ming dynasty, where thirteen of the sixteen dynasty's emperors are interred, together with empresses and concubines. In accordance with an old tradition, the rulers had their tombs built during their lifetime.