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Beijing – Imperial Palace (The Forbidden City)

Child in the Forbidden City
For centuries, the Forbidden City was the palace for the Ming and Qing emperors. The Imperial Palace, begun during the reign of the third Ming emperor in 1406, was a complex of palaces and halls, nearly 10,000 rooms, including workshops where exquisite artworks were produced. For nearly 500 years this mysterious and secret city was a world unto itself for the emperors and their families. Today, as kids blithely walk through the gates of the Imperial Palace, just remember that a century ago, for outsiders to get close to even the Imperial Walls was – forbidden.
    The Imperial Palace (also called the Palace Museum) is a huge walled complex, surrounded by a moat. There's two major areas – the outer courtyards with three great halls of state, and inner courtyards with imperial residences for the emperor and his entourage, plus the gardens. The halls have been restored to show what life what like under the emperors and their living quarters (too bad there aren't any kids' bedrooms to see). Galleries display exquisite artwork of bronze, ceramic, jade, clocks, armor and weaponry, and precious treasures and paintings. For more information, check out the Palace Museum web site.
    Start your explorations of the Forbidden City by going through the Tiananmen Gate (at Tiananmen Square), cross the moat, and enter through the south entrance at the Wu Men Gate (Meridian Gate). Here you can pick up an audio tour. Also, you'll want some sort of detailed map of the Forbidden City, although the complex is nicely laid out in a grid.
    Keep going straight to the bridges over the Golden Water River or make a left turn to check out one of the four watchtowers guarding the Forbidden City. Guards with bows and arrows stood in the watchtowers, ready to discourage any unwanted intruders.
  In front of the Gate of Supreme Harmony, make a beeline for the emperor and empress lion statues. The totally cool empress lion statue on the west side of the gate is nudging a little lion cub under her paw. On the east side of the gate, the emperor lion statue has a ball (symbol of imperial power) firmly squished under his paw.
    Hall of Supreme Harmony (Te He Dian Hall) – The Hall of Supreme Harmony has an incredible gilded imperial throne – here the emperor held ceremonies to celebrate the lunar New Year, winter solstice, and his birthday. Everywhere you look, you'll see dragons, symbolic of the emperor, the Son of Heaven. Even the golden posts supporting the hall are decorated with dragons.
  Dragon pavement – At the back of the Hall of Preserved Harmony (Bao He Dian Hall), don't miss the amazing dragon walkway. You can't walk on it, but this marble walkway is the largest stone carving in the Forbidden City. Carved in Ming and Qing dynasties, surrounded by flowers and ocean waves, nine dragons play amidst the clouds.
    Galleries – The Forbidden City is also an incredible art museum, it's galleries filled with exquisite treasures. In the Treasure galleries, kids will enjoy goodies such as the gold seal of the empress, pearl necklaces, a golden Buddha, dagger with a jade horse, golden cups and saucers inlaid with pearls, weapons used by the emperor, armor, swords. The Jade gallery has extraordinary white jade pendants and combs, jade horse and camel figures. Check out the unusual clocks in the Clock Gallery, figures on the clocks turned while music played. The Bronze Gallery has ancient bronze tripods with fabulous stylized animal designs.
 

Other goodies – The Forbidden City has all kinds of statues and sculptures of animals which are fascinating for kids. On the yellow glazed roof tiles, look for guardian figures that protect the Forbidden City and function as rain gutters – dragons, phoenixes, lions, flying horses, and figures of the Immortals. (Bring your binoculars.)

   

Look for the bronze statue of a crane (symbol of good luck) near the Tai He Dian Hall, bronze tortoise (symbol of long life) and the exquisite Nine Dragon Wall, with nine glazed-tile dragons amidst an azure sea and clouds, near the Huangji Gate. Huge bronze cauldrons, used to hold water to extinguish fires, are decorated with lion handles. There's hundreds of dragons and lions in the complex – try counting them.

      Tip: Go early in the day to the Imperial Palace to avoid crowds, and don't start late in the day, when the sheer size of this complex can be overwhelming. If possible, try to visit more than once, this is a big site for kids to take in all at once. Be prepared for crowds in certain areas, but you can always head off to some other section.
   

Jingshan Park (Prospect Hill Park or Coal Hill Park) – Once you leave the north gate of the Forbidden City, cross the moat and keep on going, up to the top of Jingshan Park. Jingshan Park is an artificial hill, built as a buffer for the Imperial Palace against bad spirits arriving from the north. From the top of the hill, you can look down over the Forbidden City, a sea of golden glazed-tile roofs.

 

Beihai Park – Beihai Park is the perfect place to go after you've seen the Forbidden City, and it's just a great place for kids. Once an imperial pleasure garden, Beihai Park is peaceful and relaxing, cool and shady, you can escape the crowds, there are benches for picnics, and places to get ice cream. More than half the park is the lake, so rent pedal boats (kids can expend some energy) or electric boats (if you're feeling lazy).

     

Walk across the white marble bridge to Jade Island, climb up to see the White Dagoba, which has Buddhist relics buried inside, and for views of the Forbidden City in the distance. Before the White Dagoba was built, this hill was the site of Kublai Khan's Palace of the Moon in the 13th century. Marco Polo might have sat on this very spot. From the northern edge of the islet, you can pick up a ferry across the lake.

     

On the northwest corner of the lake, you'll find a children's playground, the Nine-Dragon Wall, a stunning glaze tile wall with nine lively dragons frolicking in a wavy sea, and five waterside pavilions, connected by little bridges.

kids books forbidden city beijing
     
ming's adventure in the forbidden city  

Little Ming takes a tour of the Forbidden City, but after he finds a mysterious gate, he steps back in time, to the time of the Emperor. A good introduction to this famous cultural site, full two page illustrations. (Picture book)

 

     
The Mystery in the Forbidden City
Harper Paris, Marcos Calo

Ella and Ethan are having fun eating bao and exploring the Forbidden City, but they have a mystery to solve - find the Imperial Garden and three stone dragons. (Easy reader)

 

 
the mystery in the forbidden city
     
Elephants and Golden Thrones kids forbidden city beijing  
Elephants and Golden Thrones
Trish Max, Ellen B. Senisi

Step inside the Forbidden City, where the emperors lived, along with ten thousand people. Stories of different emperors – Yongle, builder of the Forbidden City, Kangxi’s celebration with elephants, a foreigner approaches the Golden Throne of Qianlong, the last emperor Puyi, plus history, celebrations, customs, private rooms of the Forbidden City. Gorgeous photographs! (Illustrated chapter book)

 

(More children's books on other Beijing pages)
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