China's forbidden fruit well worth a bite

30th Jul 2013

Very few, if any, cultural sites around the world hold the same fascination for holidaymakers on group tours as China's Forbidden City.

This was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty.

It was off limits for 500 years when the price for uninvited admission was instant execution.

Nowadays, 40 yuan (£4.26) will do, as visitors on city breaks to Běijīng, flock in their multitudes to the attraction, which is now home to the Palace Museum.

Ringed by a 52-metre-wide (170.6ft) moat, the palace's design was originally closely based on its ornate forerunner in Nánjīng.

Guides mill around the entrance, but the automatically activated audio tours are cheaper, include more than 40 languages and are more reliable.

Its ceremonial buildings rest on the north-south axis, from the Meridian Gate in the south to the Divine Military Genius Gate to the north.

Renovated in the 17th century, the Meridian Gate is a huge portal that in bygone days was exclusively used by the emperor.

Across the Golden Stream, which is spanned by five marble bridges, looms the Gate of Supreme Harmony overlooking a huge courtyard that could hold imperial audiences of up to 100,000 people.

Beguiling exhibitions adorn the halls on the eastern wing of the Three Great Halls, with displays covering the gates and guards in the Forbidden City and a fascinating collection exploring the emperor's Tibetan Buddhist beliefs.

The hypnotic Clock Exhibition Hall, situated in the Fèngxiàn Hall, is a much-loved highlight.

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