After queueing for a long while for both tickets and entrance, we finally got in to see one of China’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites – the Forbidden City. For almost 500 years (1420-1912), the place served as the Chinese imperial palace, and it definitely does not fall short of what would be expected of such a place. Hundreds of ornate, wooden buildings surround vast squares with marble bridges, guardian lion statues, and dragon-themed carvings on staircases.

The strongest colours in the buildings were yellow, the colour of the emperor, and red, which represents happiness, wealth, and honour (the traditional wedding dress colour in China is red because of this symbolism!). While the area was strikingly beautiful and transported you to a different era, I was surprised that there were no plants in the southern court areas. I can imagine that contrasted with a blue sky the red-and-yellow buildings would look even more marvellous than they did on that day, but against a sky heavy with smog, spots of green would have spruced the area up in a lovely way. I guess the 15th century architects had no way of knowing what the air conditions would be like after six centuries’ time.

Tourists were not allowed to visit the insides of the buildings, but there were several open gates where you could look at the throne rooms. Many of the halls inside were quite plain – the most dashing details seemed to be on the exteriors of the buildings.

My favourite area of the City was, without a doubt, the Imperial Garden at the northern end. Here, I found the staggeringly green trees I had missed, along with beautifully weathered limestone structures and smaller but no less ornate buildings. I also found an elephant statue that captured my heart!

Outside the northern gate you could see the Jingshan park towering over Beijing. I wish I had had the time to take a stroll around it, but on a business trip with limited time for sightseeing, I had to cut my list somewhere.

The Forbidden City is a must on every traveller’s bucket list. If you’re going to Beijing, make sure you don’t miss this manifestation of the old Chinese culture. Reserve enough time for the trip, prepare yourself for the crazy amount of tourists, bring a couple of water bottles with you (if you’re touring the area in a 36 degree heat like I was) and you won’t be disappointed!

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