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Beijing, Oct. 16
The Forbidden City is no longer forbidden. Throngs of tourists crowd through the south gate to see where the emperor of China ruled from the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) until the fall of the monarchy in 1911. Walking north through its many plazas and buildings takes about 90 minutes. Often, I thought of what it must have been like for an official from the provinces to enter this place a few centuries ago, passing through gate after gate, like opening a box just to find another box, and another and another. When he finally saw the Hall of Preserving Harmony, that official must have been trembling with awe at the power of the emperor. Now it is known as the Palace Museum, and even during the Cultural Revolution, when many things ancient and imperial were destroyed or damaged, the top leadership of the Party managed to preserve its treasures. As with the Summer Palace, it’s better to look at the pictures, so here are a few.
At Tian’an Gate, thousands of tourists and Chinese citizens queue to cross a narrow bridge over the Forbidden City moat and enter the walled compound.
Once inside the palace wall, one first encounters the massive Meridian Gate. The Chinese called their civilization the Middle Kingdom, and the north-south line running through the Forbidden city gates—and right under the throne of the emperor—was their prime meridian.
Each courtyard in the palace is more grand and forbidding (no pun intended). Each is also more beautiful. These rooflines are part of the Hall of Supreme Harmony.
The giant courtyard of the Hall of Supreme Harmony.
Funny story: While traveling with a group of 35 men and women, occasional group bathroom stops are required. About halfway through our 2-hour walk through the Palace Museum, we found some public facilities. The men’s line was (as is often the case) shorter than the women’s—in this case, a lot shorter. Some women gave up when it appeared that it might take up to a half hour to reach stalls that, like most public bathrooms in China, featured squat-over-the-porcelain-hole-in-the-floor toilets. Fired by the desire for equality of treatment in loo lines in this worker’s paradise, Joan, Carol, Hannah, Marilyn, and Emel—with some assistance by Emel’s husband Sameer (far left)—caused several other men to zip up a little more quickly than usual by crashing the men’s room. They still had to squat in the private stalls on the male side, but the entire group was grateful to be on its way after we took this commemorative group picture.
An interior moat must be crossed to gain access to the next plaza.
Approaching the Hall of Preserving Harmony, one has to climb past these marble galleries. The emperor’s throne room is in this hall. North of the Hall of Preserving Harmony lie the royal residences.
The emperor’s throne, where he sat just four times each year, presumably preserving harmony. The monarchy fell in 1911, but many artifacts were preserved.
Huge bronze urns throughout the palace complex provided water for fighting fires.
A beautiful garden was part of the imperial residences.