The Not So Forbidden City

The Chinese have an affection for over-pompously naming things. The Giant Panda isn’t an enormous bear, unless compared to a red panda, The Great Wall isn’t one singular construction but an amalgamation of separate walls built in different millennia and the ridiculously named “The General- Causing- Great- Waters- to- Run- So- Extinguishing- Any- Fire- That- Has- Arisen” is a perfect exhibition of ridiculousness, one that also failed to stop any fire and the brief rule of Wang Man coming to a gory end with his decapitation and dismemberment. The Forbidden City is another example of branding betrayal as it is no longer forbidden and doesn’t really count as a city.

Still, it’s pretty damn impressive. Work began on the imperial palace back in 1406 on the orders of The Yongle Emperor (3rd of the Ming Dynasty and an apparently extremely flashy and equally brutal bloke) and took one million labourers more than 12 years to complete. Since then it served as the home to 24 emperors from both the Ming and Qing dynasties until 1911 when the Xinhai revolution ended more than three thousand years of imperial rule, and still the abdicated Prince resided there for more than another decade. Since he moved out, the complex has gradually become less forbidden as it has turned into a colossal museum and the countries most popular tourist attraction.

Having been drowned in the same fact avalanche I just threw your way I couldn’t wait to get stuck into my first proper peeking of Peking and armed with just a camera and an insufficient supply of water I stepped out into the midday inferno of smog that is Beijing. My first impression of the walled perimeter of the city, other than the overwhelming heat, is that it was big and red (if you were expecting a eloquent, comprehensive report you’re in the wrong place). The sheer size of the fortified entrance was staggering in all directions and looking from Tian’anmen Square towards the old palace granted a snapshot of the grandeur of Chinese architecture. After enjoying the cool shade of the tunnels penetrating the outside walls we were chucked out into another square with another huge wall to go through, the Chinese really like a big wall. This one led into the heart of the city where on the satisfactorily grid like layout we began the walk along the main road. This central avenue is home to a string or similar sounding temples such as the Hall of Central Harmony, the Hall of Preserving Harmony and the Hall of Supreme Harmony. They are similar looking temples too, all of which are exemplary representations of classic Chinese architecture. Constructed in wood and finished in an array of golds, reds and greens they make quite the spectacle and the imperial ceremonies that used to take place there must’ve been epic. It’s hard to imagine the grand events now every staircase surrounding each temple is a busy highway of pedestrians and each square separating the temples is a set for photo shoots.

In the unforgiving midday sun the punishing combination of compact crowding, nonexistent shade and pressing heat took its toll and after an unprepared supply of water quickly dried up the conditions became unbearable and the mission to appreciate the rich history of the palace became impossible. A break in the gardens couldn’t cool us down and the shelter of the shops provided no reprise from the ancient oven, not even “That- General- Who- Could- Control- The- Water- And- Cool- Stuff -Down” could’ve saved us and once we’d walked from the South entrance to the North gate we escaped the Forbidden City and began the search for a cold bottle of water, an ice cream and lunch.

Giant Pandas are massive in the Panda family, The Great Wall is pretty great for a wall and the Forbidden City was once just that, but now the lack of forbiddeness has made it a overcrowded city of heat. But it’s probably the most amazing city of heat in the world.

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