The Forbidden City is in the heart of Beijing. Approximately, 16 million visit it annually (on average 42,000 daily). We received a tip that you can no longer buy tickets at the Palace Gates. They had to be purchased in advance. When showing up, they use a passport scan. A ticket-less system was perfect for handling this type of volume.
Unfortunately we also heard that if you don’t get there early, the queue to get through security and the entrance can take over an hour. The couple we talked with got there at the opening time of 7:30 and waited until 8:30 in line before even getting in.
So after our big hike, we woke up extra early and took the metro to Tiananmen Square Station East. I would not have recognized this square. There were two large structures built in the middle of it, that were not there in late 90s. Also, security was much much tighter. After exiting the metro, we went through another security check to enter the square. This included baggage scans, metal detectors, passport scan, and a pat down.
We walked through the giant first gate of the walled city. We talked with the girls about dynastic emperors and the last emperor Puyi. Alyssa shared what she remembered about the movie The Last Emperor with Kylie. We hustled down to the second gate. I thought we had passed security but I was mistaken. There was a second round of security checks. We queued and waited. Fortunately, through Sharleen’s foresight, we didn’t have to wait for long. We moved forward as the teeming masses pushed forward. More passport scans, metal detectors, and baggage checks.
We were in!
However, so was everyone else. It was like exiting a major sporting event. Thousands of people streaming in, pushing forward. It was difficult to stop and take it in. Especially after our hike for the last two day with so few people, now we were in the middle of a stampede!
Tour guide loud speakers boomed as groups of people rushed all around. I went to take a picture of one of the golden thrones used by the Emperor, and found myself in a feeding frenzy. Like piranhas, the people swarmed and pushed and wedged themselves in …. just to take a picture of a gold chair. Luckily, I was about two-three inches taller than everyone there, so I could just elevate my arms and take a picture over them.
The Forbidden City is massive. It is larger than the Kremlin, it is larger than the Louvre, and is even larger than the Vatican City. It is the largest medieval wooden structure in the world. 24 Emperors over two dynasties (Ming and Qing) lived in the palace. In other words, over nearly 600 years of Imperial China used this fortress (China’s Dynasties). The crowd flowed like a swollen river through the Meridian Gate, Gate of Supreme Harmony, Hall of Supreme Harmony, Hall of Central Harmony, Hall of Preserved Harmony, and the Gate of Heavenly Purity.
Already tired from the heat and our two day hike from the previous days, as well as pushing and navigating through all the people, we rested for bit. We moved out of the main flow of people and decided to explore some of the western palaces. We found some museums of stone, bronze, and various Buddha status. The rooms smelled old. The air was stale. So we went in search of other things to look at. There were seats and benches, but all shade locations were occupied.
Kylie, the bottomless pit of consumption, was hungry so we ate at a buffet-like restaurant within the city. It certainly didn’t taste like an imperial meal. Alyssa did enjoy her spaghetti.
Many of the palaces were closed to visitors. The official website states 80% of the palace is available for tourists. It is hard to say because 80% of what, open space, rooms, names, palaces. The Palace of Brilliance was locked. Maybe this was a personal slight. However we did get to visit the Palace of Prolonged Happiness. During the Ming Dynasty it was a place for concubines and consorts; however it burnt down in the 1850s, was partially rebuilt until funding ran out, then was bombed in 1912. Part of it remains unfinished. I wonder if there is any irony in this?
The girls were tired, and I was getting sick. It was harder to appreciate the awesomeness of this site and the structures within. We finished our visit and headed back FuXue Hutong, where Sharleen had found us accommodations nestled in deep in a labyrinth of ancient streets and buildings.