On one of those long subway rides to the center of Beijing, John noticed, that the Forbidden City is actually a tiny icon on the subway map. And it is the only icon – no other sights are indicated on that rather technical map that helps to ease the chaos of how to get from one unpronounceable station to another one. The Forbidden City is literally the center of Beijing, the heart of the city, probably the heart of the nation. It was the residence for Chinese emperors for over 500 years and many tried to burn it down several times – without success. However, it is a symbol of Chinese civilisation, but as well a controversy for the Communist Party as the Forbidden City also stands for a „political incorrect, pre-revolutionary time“. But it is a fact that it easily counts as one of the major sights of civilisation worldwide, that is visited by up to 80 000 people every single day. Ten years ago, when I visited the place the very first time, there were no bag checks and security gates. The times they are a changing. Speaking of my first ever visit: it was super cold February in 2009 and one of the rare occasions that it snowed in the city.
The area is vast and, being blunt, the place lacks of cultural artefacts that would give you a vivid impression of how life might have been when it has been a bustling city and the emporer’s residence. Anyway, wandering around on those cobble stones, that didn’t get replaced yet, walking through another huge gate, marvelling on thick red brick walls, colourful ceramic tiles, dragon heads and mythological figures gazing down from those typical Chinese roofs, is an awesome experience. No visit is complete without climbing up Jingshan just north of the Forbidden Citys north gate. As Beijing itself is flat like a pan, I wondered why there is a hill. But this is the „debris pile“ when the moat around Forbidden City was digged out. Good for us as the view from up the hill not only towards the south but also over the rest of the city – and with a bit of luck – on clear days even all the way west to the West Mountains, is nice.