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Cities and Attractions

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frangranthill.JPG (44282 bytes)Beijing, located in the North, is the most modern city of China and home to over 10 million people. It is the center of China's politics and a busy capital-city. As the seat of power of Chinese emperors throughout the centuries, Beijing is steeped in history and 26 the traditions of the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368-1911).

Reigning as both an ancient capital of Imperial China and the modern capital of a thriving nation, Beijing retains plenty of evidence of its royal past, with aristocratic parks, temples, and palaces (all open to the public). Beijing is home to an incredible cultural display of art and historical artifacts in more than 50 museums, folk traditions that flourish in theaters, delicious dining in exotic settings, and cultural centers with fascinating demonstrations of centuries-old art and craft-making.

Nowhere else can you get a more concentrated impression of the old and new China. Beijing is the treasure trove of Chinese culture, where many of the sights that make China a world-class destination are located.

The Palace Museum
Also known as the Forbidden City, this 250-acre city-within-a-city complex began construction during the Ming dynasty in 1406. It is the largest and most complete ancient imperial palace in the world, with more than 800 buildings and 9,000 rooms. Home to 24 emperors during the Ming and Qing dynasties, but off-limits to commoners, it has been transformed into a magnificent museum, where you can view an enormous collection of cultural relics and precious art objects. The Outer Palace, at the museum's entrance, is dominated by massive gates that lead to three great halls formerly used for official purposes. To the rear, the Inner Palace contains the living quarters of the Imperial Family, which was last occupied as the royal residence in 1924 by Puyi, the last emperor of China.

Adjacent to the Forbidden City, as you exit, is the Children's Palace. Here, you can watch as talented children are tutored in traditional Chinese arts. This is an extremely enjoyable and entertaining complex of classrooms to visit the children are talented and delight- f u I to watch.

Tiananmen Gate Tower
tiananmen.gif (33886 bytes)Built in 1651, the Gate of Heavenly Peace is located in front of the main entrance to the Forbidden City. Across the street is the Square named after the gate. Covering 110 acres, it is the largest public square in the world. Surrounding the square are many of China's most impressive monuments, government buildings, and museums. Mao Zedong's Mausoleum and the Great Hall of the People legislative building are located on either side of the square. Tiananmen square is an excellent place for people watching and is a great location for a wide-angle photo of the Forbidden City or any of the monuments.

The Great Wall
As you first look upon the Great Wall, it is impossible not to be awestruck at this man-made structure. Construction started in the 7th century BC with additions and re- building continuing until the 16th century AD. The Great Wall was built to keep out the warring invaders of the north, but additional sections were extended eastward for nearly 4,000 miles.

Day tours are available to take you to view several sections of the Wall that are located only a short drive from Beijing. The Badaling section is the most well preserved, and the view as you climb to the top is stunning. Once on top, you can walk for a mile or so in either direction, marveling at the commanding view of the Wall as it winds through the mountains for miles. The rugged, beautiful Mutianyu section is another good place to view the Wall, and to really appreciate the full extent of its magnitude. A cable car now whisks visitors to the top in a few minutes and provides an excellent vantage point for photography.

The Temple of Heaven - Tiantan Park
tiantan.jpg (27974 bytes)This masterpiece of Ming architecture is one of the most photographed buildings in the world for its elegant beauty and symmetry. Built in 1420, it was the place where Ming and Qing emperors (Son of Heaven) prayed to heaven for a good harvest. Today, the Temple of Heaven is surrounded by a 660-acre park, with music playing softly throughout the day. Within the park complex, next to the Imperial Vault of Heaven, are the acoustically perfect Echo Wall and Triple Sounds Stone. Early- mornings visitors can watch young and old practicing Tai Ji and the ancient healing art of Qigong; or you can watch couples waltzing to classical music next to a beautifully landscaped Rose Garden, and you are welcome to join them.

The Summer Palace
summerpalace.JPG (29595 bytes)Royal families as far back as a thousand years ago came to Kunming Lake for rest and recreation. In 1750, a summer palace was built overlooking the peaceful lake. Today, you can stroll along the famous 700 meter Long Corridor, with its beautiful Painted Gallery (each archway depicts a different scene), and enjoy a peaceful afternoon next to Kunming Lake, soaking in the majesty of China's imperial past. Famous features such as the Marble Boat, Longevity Tower, 150 meters-long 17-arch bridge, and several magnificently painted pavilions are stunning examples of Chinese architectural and construction genius. Throughout the grounds are outstanding examples of classical Chinese gardening; the Summer Palace has the largest imperial garden in China.

Adjacent to the Summer Palace is the newly reconstructed Suzhou Street, with its colorful shops and royal tea gardens, a relaxing place to enjoy a meal.

The Ming Tombs
Large stone animals and human figures line the famous Sacred Way, the entrance to the burial-grounds site. This long drive leads to a large mountain valley, where a complex of tombs are set into the hillside sheltering well-preserved artifacts of 13 emperors from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD). The entire complex covers all 13 hillsides of the valley. The main tomb of Emperor Wanli (1562-1620 AD) is open to the public for exploration; some sections have yet to be excavated. This is an- other excellent example of the grandeur of the Ming dynasty. A typical day tour combines the Ming Tombs with several hours on the Great Wall and then a visit at the Cloisonné factory on return.

Special tours can be arranged to the surviving traditional residential quarters, which are called Huntong, in Beijing. The Hutongs are lanes or alleys that are flanked by quadrangle courtyards. The quadrangle courtyard is an enclosure of one-storied houses on four sides. Two thirds of these houses that existed hundreds of years have now been replaced by modern buildings. One third, however, still remain, and many of the Hutongs with their quadrangles are well preserved. Visitors may see how the local people adapt to life in modern times while residing in their centuries-old neighborhoods. Riding in old-fashioned pedicabs through these hutongs is something special for your Beijing trip.

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