Knowing in advance that this week marks the National Holiday, I knew that the city would be busy so I organised a couple of tours in advance of coming here.
Today involved stops at Tian’anamen Square and the Forbidden City before continuing on to the Great Wall of China.
I was very relieved to have booked tours as tickets to the Forbidden City had already sold out.
The National Holiday is a time when millions visit the country’s major cultural attractions, and that includes Beijing.
Sophia, our guide, explained that people in Beijing keep away from the city centre during this week and, if possible, travel elsewhere, often abroad.
Tian’anamen Square is named after the Northern gate of the same name (‘Gate of Heavenly Peace’), separating the square from the Forbidden City.
The square contains the Monument to the People’s Heroes and Mao’s Mausoleum, larger and more ostentatious than Lenin’s.
It was at Tian’anamen Square that Mao proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China in the square on October 1, 1949 so this year’s 70th anniversary celebrations have been epic.
Walking through the Tian’anamen Gate, we entered the Forbidden City
And, it is on the scale of a city. It’s not one palace.
Within are several palaces, that of the emperor, the empress and other buildings that were the homes of high ranking officials and concubines.
Political struggles for power and control ran from the the Ming dynasty to the end of the Qing dynasty (1420 to 1912).
One story, told by Sophia our guide, involved a test of loyalty in the deceit of the emperor. A deer was presented for a feast but the boy emperor was told it was a horse.
He challenged this and was advised to ask all of the other officials for their advice. Those who recognised that a new usurper was taking control answered: “Horse”.
Those who didn’t answered: “Deer”. They were later executed
The Forbidden City served as the home of emperors and their households and was the ceremonial and political center of Chinese government for almost 500 years.
With stories of extravagance ringing in our ears, we headed to the Great Wall of China.
I don’t have the words to do justice to the experience, particularly as I was mostly squealing in excitement to be there.
Somewhere I have always wanted to visit, a structure I have always wanted to see. It was breathtaking.
So, pub quiz aficionados, some trivia for you and I do expect a share of the next winnings you scoop…
The ‘Great Wall’ actually refers to a series of fortifications rather than just the one wall. These were built across the historical northern borders of China to protect and consolidate territories against the Mongolian Nomadic tribes.
Genghis Khan was shaping China even after his death
Several walls were actually being built, pre-Genghis from as early as the 7th century. Later on, many successive dynasties have built and maintained multiple stretches of border walls.
The most well-known sections of the wall were built by the Ming dynasty (1368–1644).
And, did you know you can ride a toboggan from the top of the wall to the bottom? Is it wrong that a UNESCO Heritage Site has such a frivolous activity on offer?
It might be… but it was utterly exhilarating.
You may have known that it was possible to ride a cable car up to the top, rather than enduring a gruelling climb to the top in 30°C heat.
We took the chair lift which was incredible but the toboggan ride was simply awesome. My inner 7 year old had a superb afternoon.
The best aspect of this tour was the other people in the group. Everyone was excited to be here and it was great fun to share the collective enthusiasm.
We were all visiting China for different reasons and using different routes. Three of us were American, one Chinese and myself English. We were all from different backgrounds.
It was a grand day out, so Baron, Jody, Edward and Luin, if you read this: thanks for a great day.
NB I’m having substantial difficulties in uploading pictures this evening. Please refer to my Instagram account: phileasfiona.
*Featured Photo: The Great Wall, of course…