The Forbidden City, Beijing
The Forbidden City is the former imperial palace that was built to impress, and intimidate visitors. It maintains those same qualities today.
Your visit to the Forbidden City really begins with a visit to Tiananmen Square. As squares go, it is amongst the top ten largest in the world. On a sunny summer's day, the expanse of concrete and lack of shade amplify the heat to a point where it is almost unbearable. The square itself is surrounded by the main Chinese political buildings and National Museum while the centre contains the mausoleum of Chairman Mao.
From Tiananmen Square, you head north across a small set of bridges to where you must pass three massive defensive gates gain access to the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City is roughly a square kilometre in area.
View of the first gate.
You pass the first gate for free and then purchase your tickets before passing through the second gate. This series of gates is clearly a defensive construction given the scale of the walls. Any invaders would certainly have walked into a trap at this point.
After passing the third gate called the Meridian Gate, you get a view of the Gate of Supreme Harmony. This gate is fourth gate is less about defense and more about impressing the visitor.
After passing through five structures, you arrive at this view of the Hall of Supreme Harmony.
Directly behind, but hidden on the same elevation, is the Hall of Preserving Harmony. The next couple photos give you an idea of how the inside of the halls are decorated.
Beyond these hall lies the personal living spaces of the emperor, his concubines and staff. There are 980 buildings within the Forbidden City. Only a fraction of them are open to the public at any given time.
Even given its scale, the attention to detail is amazing. There dozens of large bronze statues and intricately carved rock everywhere.
Note the tiny figures that can be seen on the edges of all of the rooftops. On the large buildings the, the larger figures are more than a metre (or two) tall. This is a close of some on a much smaller building's roof.
Lastly, here are a couple of photos of the typical walkways that tie together typical courtyards.
Given the size of the Forbidden City, it is possible to find quiet, secluded areas beyond the mass of tourist hoards that visit the site. The Emperor's garden at the far north end is particularly tranquil, relatively speaking.