Saturday, October 07, 2006

Beijing's Forbidden City

Our first stop in Beijing is the vast palace grounds for two dynasties, the Ming and the Qing (pronouced ching). This opulent and heavily fortified palace was the exclusive domain of the emperor, his family and his entourage of officials, concubines, and eunuchs for 500 years. Today, it's official name is the Palace Museum and it's open to the masses for a small fee. The massive Meridian Gate (below) guards the southern end of the compound.

The grandiose site names are guaranteed to instill awe, and perhaps a few chuckles too:
  • The gate of character cultivation
  • The gate of divine military genius
  • Hall of preserving harmony
  • Hall of supreme harmony
  • Palace of earthly tranquility
  • Palace of abstinence
The last one at least has an interesting story. Prior to certain ceremonies, according to our British-accent English audio guide, the emperor was compelled to abstain from onions, garlic, alcohol, and sex -- no doubt a difficult proposition with the harem right next door. Interestingly, the emperor actually increased his consumption of meat during the period of abstinence in order to increase his strength for the impending ceremony.

All the buildings in the forbidden city are capped with yellow roof tiles; this color tile is reserved only for the royal palaces and sacred temples.

This photo shows a sample of the fancy artwork adorning the temple structures.

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