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On our next non-competition day, we got to visit the Forbidden City and Tian'an Men Square, which are at the very center of Beijing. Officially known now as the Palace Museum, the complex housed both the government and the private residences of the Imperial Court for over 600 years. There are 800 residences, temples, courtyards, offices, and plazas covering 178 acres. The day began gray and hazy again. By the time we arrived at the Forbidden City, it had begun to rain pretty hard, but we couldn't pass up a chance to explore this impressive site:
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We actually entered the complex through the "back door" of the palace, the northern Gate of Divine Prowess, or Shenwu Men, after crossing the moat that protects the rear of the City. This gate abuts one of the most intimate areas of the Forbidden City, the Imperial Garden (Yuhuayuan), designed as a place of relaxation for the emperor, with a fanciful arrangement of trees, fish ponds, flower beds, monumental stone, and sculpture. We then walked though the Eastern Palaces, where the emperor and his concubines lived at times. An interesting tidbit: you will notice in the gallery, that many of the doorways of these courtyards and buildings have raised thresholds; this is to combat demons, who cannot jump over them. When the Last Emperor, Pu-yi, was learning to ride a bike, these barriers had to be cut and made removeable, so that he could ride around the inner palaces. As we moved south to the Inner Court, where the emperors transacted much of the imperial business, the courtyards opened up into plazas, and the architecture became even more impressive. Luckily, as we entered the Outer Court, the rain let up.
The Outer Court is the heart of the Forbidden City, centered on three halls on the central north-south axis which were used for ceremonial purposes, such as coronations, investitures, and imperial weddings, with government buildings surrounding them, including the Imperial Library, archives, and lantern storage.
We left the Outer Court via the Meridian Gate, the largest gate in the complex (the center of the five arches was reserved for the emperor and his top three scholars). Beyond lies the outermost plaza of the Palace, which is now given over to souvenir and food stands. At the end of this plaza lies the entrance the Forbidden the City, the Tian'an Men (Gate of Heavenly Peace). Mao's portrait hangs on the outside, facing the Square.
Tiananmen square was originally designed and built in 1651, as the "front yard" of the Imperial Palace. In 1958, Mao Zedong bulldozed the surrounding area, and pulled down sections of the old city wall, to construct the current 109-acre plaza.
As we were leaving the Square to go to gymnastics, the rain started up again, and quickly built up to a monsoon. The rain tied up traffic so much that some of the group were so late that we were shut out of the venue. Knowing it would be useless to try and reconnect with those inside after the competition, I dragged my sodden self across the enormous Olympic Park, and made my way back to the Dongzhimen Inner Road for dinner. A different place this time, partially for variety, partially because even after half an hour of searching, and calls to my earlier hosts for directions, I was unable to find the restaurant I had been to only a few nights previously! If you are ever in the area yourselves, look for the restaurant with green footballs hanging outside, and tell me the address, please. After a spicy repast to get a little warmer, I hooked up with my new ex-pat pals at the Loong Bar in the Chaoyang District. They had commandeered the back lounge, and I warmed myself further with a few single malts while watching the Redeem Team take on China in b-ball (with a few discreet trips to the restroom to wring out my clothes). Drier, warmer, and full of USA rah-rah, I headed home to rest up for a big day on the water.