This city is not for you.

The Forbidden City is really quite big, and unlike in the films, full of tourists rather than ninjas. Sadly two of the largest halls were closed for rennovation, but it doesn’t really matter – it’s not the individual places that impress, so much as the continuity of style, repetition of elements and overall scale of the site that are spectacular. Each time you pass through a gate into another courtyard, or turn a corner of a passage, you’re met by another view of red columns, paved squares, carefully manicured plants, tiled roofs, and so on. This is aesthetically stunning, but also rather sterile (and rapidly becomes oppressive in the heat, despite making an early start). I think it’s the kind of place where a team of re-enactors could make a huge difference, and also provide great camera-fodder – a few ceremonies or processions being recreated would really bring the sights and sounds of the place to life.

Even without such lures, however, the place is busy with tourists of all kinds. Fortunately the scale means that off the main drag, there’s no real crowd pressure, and with a few turns down side-streets you escape the crowds altogether. It’s also surprising how completely the modern city is removed – I expected the ever present sounds of car horns and sirens, and the horizon dotted with skyscrapers, but this is not the case at all. Off the beaten track, in the east or west palaces, there’s peace and tranquility in abundance.

Posted Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008 under history, travel.

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