Hidden Views of Forbidden City

Large Stone Carving

Attempts to photographically capture a 1000-building palace complex can easily result in a cliché-like sameness, a sort of generic been-to-Beijing-done-that.  So I tried to see beyond the buildings, and take in some of the Forbidden City’s details, such as its gorgeous stone carvings.


A huge bas relief from the Ming dynasty has 9 stone dragons playing with pearls. The approach to the nearby Hall of Preserved Harmony sports 1,412 carved marble dragon head rain spouts. Their blunt noses reminded me of the dragon heads carved on the Mayan pyramids that Elizabeth and I saw on our honeymoon to the Yucatan.


The complex  has a lot of beautiful glazed tile works, mostly in yellow, with some green, often displayed against a ruddy background.  Dragons remain a common theme.


The rooflines were punctuated by long lines of fanciful ceramic animals, many of them dragons.


Hard materials like bronze, stone and glazed ceramic seem a good choice for a facilities nightmare like the Chinese imperial palace.

Faded Glory

Although all the buildings were intact, many of the details were in poor repair.  The Forbidden City has a lot of cracked and flaking paint, dim reflections of glory that faded before the first world war.

Detail of The Hall of Supreme Harmony

Only a few painted exteriors had been recently reworked, providing a colorful suggestions as to the elaborate level of decoration that must have greeted the Emperor and his concubines.

Emperor's Bedroom

There were several receiving rooms, ceremonial areas, and even some living quarters dimly visible through dingy windows, a disappointing reward for wading through the curious crowd.  The Emperor’s Bedroom was the most interesting of the interiors, with wall, bed and elaborately gilded ceiling in relatively good repair.


After a few hours of gold dragons, I worked my way to the end of the imperial grounds.


I walked through the Shenzen Gate, the interior lined with sleepy visitors on a bench, I checked my audio guide into a booth, and I exited the Shenwu Gate, and set out to explore Tiananmen Square.


[The first post in this series of  Beijing blogs can be found be clicking here]

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