Forbidden City (Gu Gong)
Home to two dynasties, the Ming and the Qing, the Forbidden City is the grandaddy of preserved ancient buildings in China. It was built during the Ming Dynasty, under the reign of Yong Le, and required the effort of a million laborers. Most of the buildings have been rebuilt or restored as the originals were destroyed during the tumultuous events of recent Chinese history.
The palace is massive with a lot of ground to cover. It is probably best to go with a tour group so that you do not miss anything, but an audiotape tour is also available. You will see various grand temples and halls but the main highlights are the Three Great Halls, and the Hall of Supreme Harmony. The latter hall was traditionally the most important structure used for imperial ceremonies such as the Emperor's birthday. Purchase maps at the front gate with admission.
Summer Palace (Yi He Yuan)
Built during the Qing Dynasty, the Summer Palace comprises a large park with beautiful imperial architecture. Used as a summer residence by the imperial family, the estate boasts rolling hills, a lake (Kun Ming Lake) and gardens. Like the Forbidden City, there is much to see at the Summer Palace, and you can easily wile away an entire day exploring the grounds. Major sites to visit include the Precious Clouds Pavilion and the Buddhist Temple of the Sea of Wisdom. Do not miss the 17-arch bridge and the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity. Purchase maps at the front gate with admission.
National Centre for the Performing Arts
The main building of NCPA comprises an exterior enclosing structure, Opera House, Concert Hall, Theater, Experimental Theater and auxiliary facilities.The exterior is a super shell in the shape of a half ellipsoid with an east-west span of 212.20m and north-south span of 143.64m. It is 46.28m high and reaches a depth of 32.50m under the ground. The artificial lake surrounding the ellipsoid shell covers an area of 35,500 m2. Plants cover a total area of 39,000 m2.
Beijing National Stadium
(Bird's Nest/Olympic Stadium)
The Beijing National Stadium, also known as the bird''s nest will be the main track and field stadium for the 2008 Summer Olympics and will be host to the Opening and Closing ceremonies. The stadium is 330 metres long by 220 metres wide, and is 69.2 metres tall. The 250,000 square metre (gross floor area) stadium is to be built with 36 km of unwrapped steel, with a combined weight of 45,000 tonnes. The stadium''s appearance is one of synergy, with no distinction made between the facade and the superstructure. The structural elements mutually support each other and converge into a grid-like formation - almost like a bird''s nest with its interwoven twigs. The spatial effect of the stadium is novel and radical, yet simple and of an almost archaic immediacy, thus creating a unique historical landmark for the Olympics of 2008. The stadium was conceived as a large collective vessel, which makes a distinctive and unmistakable impression both from a distance and when seen from up close. It meets all the functional and technical requirements of an Olympic National Stadium, but without communicating the insistent sameness of technocratic architecture dominated by large spans and digital screens.
Visitors walk through this formation and enter the spacious ambulatory that runs full circle around the stands. From there, one can survey the circulation of the entire area including the stairs that access the three tiers of the stands. Functioning like an arcade or a concourse, the lobby is a covered urban space with restaurants and stores that invite visitors to stroll around. Just as birds stuff the spaces between the woven twigs of their nests with a soft filler, the spaces in the structure of the stadium will be filled with inflated ETFE cushions. Originally, on the roof, the cushions were to be mounted on the outside of the structure to make the roof completely weatherproof, but the roof has been omitted from the design in 2004.
While the rain was to be collected for rainwater recuperation, the sunlight was to filter through the translucent roof, providing the lawn with essential ultraviolet radiation. On the facade, the inflated cushions will be mounted on the inside of the structure where necessary, e.g. to provide wind protection. Since all of the facilities -- restaurants, suites, shops and restrooms -- are all self-contained units, it is possible to do largely without a solid, enclosed facade. This allows for natural ventilation of the stadium, which is the most important aspect of the stadium''s sustainable design.
The sliding roof was an integral part of the stadium structure. When it was to be closed, it would have converted the stadium into a covered arena; however, the sliding roof was eliminated in an effort to cut costs and increase overall safety of the radical new structure.
The Tian’anmen Square is the largest city central plaza in the world and also the heart of Beijing. The square of today is a place for the people to get together when there is a big event but In the Ming and Qing dynasties, the square was only a “T”---shaped small one because the rest spacing was taken by government buildings of military and civil ministries. Later, the original old buildings around the square were demolished leaving the beautiful and broad square we can see today. The square was the witness of Chinese history of revolution because some of the well—known patriotic movements occurred here like the May 4th Movement in 1919, the December 9th Movement in 1935. The square was also the witness of the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 and it is witnessing the amazing development of a great new China!
The square is rectangular in shape. It is 880 meters from north to south and 500 meters from east to west. Covering an area of 44 hectares, it is big enough to hold 1 million people. In other words, 1/13 of the whole population in Beijing can stand in the square side by side at the same time. Around and in the square, there are some famous and important structures. Now let me introduce. Clockwise.
To the west of the square is the biggest conference hall in China called the Great Hall of the People. Completed in 1959, it is the place for the deputies to the national people’s congress to deal with national affairs. The hall covers an area of 171,800 square meters and the highest point in the middle is 46.5 meters. Three functional sections compose the whole building. The south wing is the Office of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. The middle part is the 10000-seat auditorium. The north wing is the national banquet hall. It is big enough to arrange a cocktail party for 10000 people.
To the north end of the square stands the Tian’anmen Rostrum. It is the symbol of new China. It was also the very place where on Oct 1st, 1949; Chairman Mao proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
The National Museum lies to the east of the square. It includes the Museum of Chinese History and the Museum of Chinese Revolution built in 1959. A large quantity of Chinese historical and revolutionary relics are kept and on display in the museum. It is a good place to know about the brilliant Chinese history.
The two ancient structures to the south end of the square are the original front city gate of the interior Beijing city and its defensive arrow tower. The gate was called the “Zhengyangmen” which means the Gate of Mid--Noon Sunlight. With a height of 42 meters, it used to be the tallest building around the Tiananmen Square in the ancient time and the people in Beijing would like to call it “the Front Gate”.
The solemn square---shaped building in the square is Chairman Mao Memorial Hall completed in 1977. The great leader, Mao zedong passed away in 1976. In order to express the deep love to chairman Mao the government decided to build a memorial hall for him. Now chairman Mao’s remains are kept in a crystal coffin, people can show their respect to the great leader.
The Great Wall
The Great Wall, like the Pyramids of Egypt, the Taj Mahal(1) in India and the Hanging Garden of Babylon(2), is one of the great wonders of the world. Starting out in the east on the banks of the Yalu River in Liaoning Province, the Wall stretches westwards for 12,700 kilometers to Jiayuguan in the Gobi desert, thus known as the Ten Thousand Li Wall in China. The Wall climbs up and down, twists and turns along the ridges of the Yanshan and Yinshan Mountain Chains through five provinces--Liaoning, Hebei, Shanxi, Shaanxi, and Gansu--and two autonomous regions--Ningxia and Inner Mongolia, binding the northern China together.
Historical records trace the construction of the origin of the Wall to defensive fortification back to the year 656 B.C. during the reign of King Cheng of the States of Chu. Its construction continued throughout the Warring States period in the fifth Century B.C. when ducal states Yan, Zhao, Wei, and Qin were frequently plundered by the nomadic peoples living north of the Yinshan and Yanshan mountain ranges. Walls, then, were built separately by these ducal states to ward off such harassments. Later in 221 B.C., when Qin conquered the other states and unified China, Emperor Qinshihuang ordered the connection of these individual walls and further extensions to form the basis of the present great wall. As a matter of fact, a separate outer wall was constructed north of the Yinshan range in the Han Dynasty(206 BC--1644 BC.), which went to ruin through years of neglect. In the many intervening centuries, succeeding dynasties rebuilt parts of the Wall. The most extensive reinforcements and renovations were carried out in the Ming Dynasty (1368--1644) when altogether 18 lengthy stretches were reinforced with bricks and rocks. It is mostly the Ming Dynasty Wall that visitors see today.
The Great Wall is divided into two sections, the east and west, with Shanxi Province as the dividing line. The west part is a rammed earth construction, about 5.3 meters high on average. In the eastern part, the core of the Wall is rammed earth as well, but the outer shell is reinforced with bricks and rocks. The most imposing and best preserved sections of the Great Wall are at Badaling and Mutianyu, not far from Beijing and both are open to visitors. The Wall of those sections is 7.8 meters high and 6.5 meters wide at its base, narrowing to 5.8 meters on the ramparts, wide enough for five horses to gallop abreast. There are ramparts, embrasures, peep-holes and apertures for archers on the top, besides gutters with gargoyles to drain rain-water off the parapet walk. Two-storied watch-towers are built at approximately 400-meters internals. The top stories of the watch-tower were designed for observing enemy movements, while the first was used for storing grain, fodder, military equipment and gunpowder as well as for quartering garrison soldiers. The highest watch-tower at Badaling standing on a hill-top is reached only after a steep climb, like "climbing a ladder to heaven". The view from the top is rewarding, hoverer. The Wall follows the contour of mountains that rise one behind the other until they finally fade and merge with distant haze. A signal system formerly existed that served to communicate military information to the dynastic capital. This consisted of beacon towers on the Wall itself and on mountain tops within sight of the Wall. At the approach of enemy troops, smoke signals gave the alarm from the beacon towers in the daytime and bonfire did this at night. Emergency signals could be relayed to the capital from distant places within a few hours long before the invention of anything like modern communications.
There stand 14 major passes (Guan, in Chinese) at places of strategic importance along the Great Wall, the most important being Shanghaiguan and Jiayuguan. Yet the most impressive one is Juyongguan, about 50 kilometers northwest of Beijing. Known as "Tian Xia Di YI Guan" (The First Pass Under Heaven), Shanghaiguan Pass is situated between two sheer cliffs forming a neck connecting north China with the northeast. It had been, therefore, a key junction contested by all strategists and many famous battles were fought here. It was the gate of Shanghaiguan that the Ming general Wu Sangui opened to the Manchu army to suppress the peasant rebellion led by Li Zicheng and so surrendered the whole Ming empire to the Manchus, leading to the foundation of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Jiayuguan Pass was not so much as the "Strategic pass Under the Heaven" as an important communication center in Chinese history. Cleft between the snow-capped Qilian Mountains and the rolling Mazong Mountains, it was on the ancient Silk Road. Zhang Qian, the first envoy of Emperor Wu Di of the Western Han dynasty (206 B.C-24 A.D), crossed it on his journey to the western regions. Later, silk flowed to the west through this pass too. The gate-tower of Jiayuguan is an attractive building of excellent workmanship. It has an inner city and an outer city, the former square in shape and surrounded by a wall 11.7 meters high and 730 meters in circumference. It has two gates, an eastern one and a western one. On each gate sits a tower facing each other. the four corners of the wall are occupied by four watch towers, one for each. Juyongguan, a gateway to ancient Beijing from Inner Mongolia, was built in a 15-kilometer long ravine flanked by mountains. The cavalrymen of Genghis Khan swept through it in the 13th century. At the center of the pass is a white marble platform named the Cloud terrace, which was called the Crossing-Street Dagoba, since its narrow arch spanned the main street of the pass and on the top of the terrace there used to be three stone dagobas, built in the Yuan Daynasty(1206-1368). At the bottom of the terrace is a half-octagonal arch gateway, interesting for its wealth of detail: it is decorated with splendid images of Buddha and four celestial guardians carved on the walls. The vividness of their expressions is matched by the exquisite workmanship, such grandiose relics works, with several stones pieced together, are rarely seen in ancient Chinese carving. The gate jambs bear a multi-lingual Buddhist sutra, carved some 600 years ago in Sanskrit, Tibetan, Mongolian, Uigur, Han Chinese and the language of Western Xia. Undoubtedly, they are valuable to the study of Buddhism and ancient languages. As a cultural heritage, the Wall belongs not only to China but to the world. The Venice charter says: "Historical and cultural architecture not only includes the individual architectural works, but also the urban or rural environment that witnessed certain civilizations, significant social developments or historical events." The Great Wall is the largest of such historical and cultural architecture, and that is why it continues to be so attractive to people all over the world. In 1987, the Wall was listed by UNESCO as a world cultural heritage site.
The Temple of Heaven
About 2km southeast of the Forbidden City towers Tian Tan, or the Temple of Heaven, where dynastic rulers in China used to worship the heaven. The temple plus subsidiary buildings and a surrounding garden covers an area five times the size of the Forbidden City. As Chinese emperors called themselves Tianzi, or the son of heaven, they had to cede supremacy to the heaven in terms of abiding.
Chinese emperors had many other gods to worship apart from the god of heaven, including the gods of earth, water and war. They also worshipped their ancestors. As a result, religious activities were an important part of their busy work schedule. Temples of various kinds are scattered in Beijing. The best-known are the Temple of Heaven in the south, the Temple of Earth in the north, the Temple of Sun in the east, and the Temple of the Moon in the west. The Temple of Heaven is the grandest of them all.
The period of Qianlong’s reign is generally regarded as the most prosperous of the entire Qing Dynasty, and this prosperity was reflected in th lavish refurbishment of the hall. “After the restoration, the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest glowed and shone with beautiful colors,” according to thTiantan Gongyuan Zhi (Records of the Temple of Heaven), compiled in 2002.
All this magnificence was destroyed by fire when the hall was struck by lightning in 1889, during the reign of Emperor Guangxu. The fire burned for a whole night, leaving only ashes of the building. The court was shocked by this ill omen, and Emperor Guangxu ordered the immediate rebuilding of the hall.
With no blueprint or other construction records to go by, the plan for the reconstruction relied on the memories of an old craftsman who had worked on an earlier restoration project of the hall, the Records of the Temple of Heaven says.
The China of the reign of Guangxu was considerably less affluent than it had been under Qianlong, but despite any budget restraints that may have been imposed, the reconstructed Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest was as exquisite as the original, although the artistic level of the painting of the building was not as high, antique expert Wang Shiren told Beijing Today.
The Temple of Heaven was built in 1420 during the reign of Emperor Yongle of the Ming Dynasty. Situated in the southern part of the city, this grand set of structures covers an area of 273 hectares. To better symbolize heaven and earth, the northern part of the Temple is circular while the southern part is square. The whole compound is enclosed by two walls, a square wall outside a round one. The outer area is characterized by suburban scenery, while the inner part is used for sacrifices. The inner enclosure consists of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest and the Circular Mound Altar. Today the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest is the hallmark of Beijing, which enjoys a prolonged history of civilization. The annex halls were symmetrically built on a 1.5-meter-high brick-and-marble terrace, to set off the loftiness and magnificence of the main hall. This unique building, 38 meters in height, is characterized by a cone-shaped structure with triple eaves and a top that is crowned by a gilt ball.
The roofing is made of blue glazed tiles, the color of the sky. Underneath the roof, the beams and brackets are decorated with colored paintings. The base of the structure is a triple-tiered, circular marble terrace. At a distance, the terrace looks like a gigantic, spiraling cloud with the structure perched on top of it. The Imperial Vault of Heaven is the main structure of Heaven's Storehouse. Aside from exquisitely laid out architectures, Heaven's Storehouse is also famous for two structures with peculiar acoustic features, i.e. the Echo Wall and the Triple-Sound Stone. A mere whisper at any point close to the wall can be heard clearly on the other side, although the parties may be 40 or 50 meters apart. This is possible because the wall is round and hermetically constructed with smooth, solid bricks. The Temple of Heaven is also famous for its cypress trees - there are more than 60, 000 cypress trees in all, among which over 4,000 are more than one hundred years old, adding to the solemn atmosphere of the temple.