“On the banks of a great river in the province of Cathay, there stood an ancient city of great size and splendor which was named Khanbaliq, or the Khan’s City.” so wrote Marco Polo, the first European to visit the city we now call Beijing. After Kublai’s death the Mongol Dynasty went into decline and the city was overthrown in the mid 14th century by the Chinese who established the Ming Dynasty. In 1421 the Emperor Yongle moved to the city and established it as the capital and renamed it Beijing. Yongle was responsible for many of the great monuments of the city including the Temple of Heaven.
During the 20th century, Beijing has undergone numerous changes due to the turmoil of war and revolution. Modern buildings have risen along side ancient sites. Beijing has grown to a city of almost 6 million people but it has still retained its past with aristocratic parks and palaces now open to the public. It is also the undisputed capital of China and has 150 foreign embassies and missions.
Temple of Heaven
Possibly the most popular symbol of China, it was built by the third Ming Emperor, Yongle, as the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. It was believed to be the closest place to heaven, and even today it feels like a sacred place.
It consists of 28 carved wooden pillars supporting a 125 foot high tower of 3 conical roofs, all covered with blue glazed tile to reflect the color of the sky. Also found in the temple gounds is the Echo Wall that carries the smallest whisper.
This famous square covers 100 acres in the heart of the city. It is just south of the Forbidden City and north of Quianmen Gate. On October 1, 1949 it is estimated that 1 million people filled the square to hear Mao Zedong proclaim the birth of the People’s Republic of China.
On the east side of the square is the Museums of Chinese History and Chinese Revolution. Opposite is the Great Hall of the People, built in 1959 to house the People’s Congress. In the middle of the square is the Monument to the People’s Heroes and Chairman Mao Zedong’s Memorial Hall.
Officially known as the former Imperial Palace. Most foreigners prefer it’s current name to indicate that only the emperor’s court minister, plus an occasional ambassador bearing tribute, were allowed into the city until the 1920s.
The vast grandeur and beauty of the city was brilliantly captured in The Last Emperor, which was filmed here. The city is an architectural masterpiece built by more than 200,000 men in 1420 for the Emperor Yongle. It covers over 183 acres of land and is divided into 3 parts. The first part of which has four monumental gates and a stream spanned by five marble bridges. It includes the Gate of Supreme Harmony, with its guard of bronze lions and leads to the “Sea of Flagstone” and the Hall of Supreme Harmony.
Located in the northwest suburbs of Beijing, it was used for 800 years by the Emperor and the court as a summer retreat from the city’s heat. During the Qing Dynasty, it became a fashionable royal resort and was the scene of many extravagant celebrations. The Empress Dowager Cixi made it her residence and spent vast amount of money to create a veritable Xanadu. Much of the area was badly damaged during the Taiping Rebellion of 1860 and the Boxer Rebellion, it has since been restored and is today a favorite summer retreat for Beijingers.
One of the true Wonders of the World, it was built section by section between the 5th century BC and 16th century AD. It was called the “Wall of Ten Thousand Li,” which means 3,333 miles and was designed to keep out invaders from the north.
Statistics on the wall are awesome. One section reportedly took 300,000 men 10 years to build. It stretches from Bohai Gulf in the Yellow Sea to Jiayuguan in the mountainous Gansu Province. Much of the wall is now in ruins, but some sections have been restored, the best known section is at Badaling, 50 miles north of Beijing. Here you can climb or take a cable car to the top of the wall. This section of the wall was built during the Ming Dynasty is 7.8 meters high and 5.8 meters wide. Another restored section is at Mutianyu, a few miles east.
The Ming Tombs are combined with a visit to The Great Wall. The 13 tombs are spread around a valley that looks like a natural courtyard with an entrance guarded by huge stone animals. Of the tombs only the tomb of Emperor Wanli, who reigned 1573-1620, is open to the public. In the museum near the tombs are displayed with marble thrones, religious regalia, jewelry, garments, porcelain and curios that were buried with the Emperor’s corpse, along with live concubines.