CAROL MARTINDALE TOURS CHINA: Forbidden City revealed
The Nation’s SUNDAY SUN Editor Carol Martindale recently visited China as part of a media delegation from Latin America and the Caribbean. At the invitation of the State Council Information Office the group toured a number of provinces across China, as well as the capital Beijing and Shanghai, where the World Expo is currently going on. During the coming weeks, she will be reporting on the sites, scenes, the culture and cuisine of China.
The Forbidden City is no longer forbidden.
In fact, every day thousands make the trek to the city of Beijing, China’s capital, to relive the royal days at the Forbidden City, also known as the Imperial Palace, when emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties ruled.
There is an air of mystery and intrigue that surrounds the palace which has over 980 buildings and sprawls across 250 acres. As we entered the gate to the palace, members of the media delegation were eager to see what beauty and treasures awaited.
What was sure was that an impressive city lay before us. After all, the Forbidden City ranks top among the World’s Five Great Palaces for its magnificent and gorgeous style and rare art treasures.
It surpasses the Versailles Palace in France, Buckingham Palace in Britain, the White House in the United States and the Kremlin Palace in Russia. In 1987, the World Heritage Committee officially included the Forbidden City on the World Heritage List.
Behind the Meridian Gate at the City there is a whole new world of royalty which opened up to us.
The resplendent beauty of the palace is eye catching, so too is the dominance of the colour – yellow, the symbol of royalty, which lights up the entire place. The main gate to the City is actually located just opposite Tianamen Square where thousands of student protesters were killed in 1989.
The Forbidden City is home to the largest group of ancient buildings which China has preserved to this day. It embodies the fine tradition and national style of ancient Chinese architectural art.
But it was also the place where the emperors lived, prayed, and governed; and visitors now get a chance to enter the gates of a City that was off limits to them for so many years. At that time, only specially invited guests and other rulers were allowed entry.
To this day there is a wall, at least 30 feet in height that envelops the palace. There is a musty smell emanating from the buildings where officials have tried to preserve treasures and keep artefacts in their rightful place, even the rugs. Curious visitors, like us, jostled for a space to peek through narrow blocked doors and dusty windows just for a glimpse at how royalty lived during that period. We caught glimpses of special art treasures: jewellery, ancient paintings, bronze figures, ceramics, arts, crafts, clocks and watches.
As a reminder of the significance of what we were witnessing, there is a large plaque hanging in one of the majestic buildings which states: “In 1961 the Imperial Palace was listed by the State Council as one of the ‘important historical monuments under the protection of the Government’.”
After the hour-long tour, all the buildings and palaces started to look alike, a sentiment shared by some members of the group as we leisurely walked through courtyard after courtyard taking in all the beauty.
There was no way though that we could have toured the entire palace, as it is made up of 90 palaces and more than 900 buildings. The Forbidden City is divided into two main parts.
The outer court is where the emperors held court and governed from, while the inner court is where they and the rest of the royal family, lived. The two are separated by the Gate of Celestial Purity. The media group was in awe when told that almost every gate or courtyard in the Forbidden City was an ancient symbol while every area had a secret meaning.
The Imperial Palace, said guides, was also designed with the principles of Feng Shui in mind. As a result, harmony is an important theme that is repeated on those hallowed grounds.
There is also a Hall of Supreme Harmony, where emperors decreed laws for the Chinese people. It is regarded as the ceremonial centre of imperial power. A Hall of Central Harmony was used by the emperor to prepare and rest before and during ceremonies.
The Hall of Preserving Harmony was used to rehearse for upcoming ceremonies. The wives of the emperors also had special quarters at the Imperial Palace, which was home to 24 emperors from the Ming to Qing dynasties.
Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 the palace buildings were repaired and it is evident that a lot of work went into the restoration and exhibition of precious cultural relics on display.
• Next: We visit the Leshan Giant Buddha, Emei Mountain, and the Wannian Temple.