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Beijing Travel Guide - Overview for Tourists
The first recorded settlement here was the city of Ji in the 12th century B.C. This settlement was the capital of the Kingdom of Yen before it was destroyed by Qin Shi Huang Di, the first Emperor of united China. Later, a town named Yu Chou developed in the time of the Tang Dynasty but was destroyed in 986 by Liao. The Liao were defeated by the Jin in 1135 and the name was changed again to Chung Du. Kubilai Khan defeated the Jin in 1264 and built a new city to the north, called Da Du. The Yuan Dynasty was overcome by the Ming in 1368 and the site became known as Bei Ping. When the Manchu drove out the Ming this city became the capital and remained so until the dynasty fell in 1911. In 1928 the Nationalist Government moved the capital to Nanjing. When the Communists took over, Beijing became the capital again in 1949.

The city of Beijing: Beijing is modern with wide boulevards, high motor traffic and very tall apartment buildings. The city itself is not interesting or picturesque. Air pollution is terrible. But one doesn't visit Beijing for it's particular atmosphere. If you have time and are looking for atmosphere, try the area around Qian Men Street. Here you can mingle with the crowds and visit the busy Chinese shops. Another area with atmosphere is around Qongwenmen Street, a few blocks from the Beijing Hotel. Most tourists don't have time for these areas, and simply go to The Friendship Store, the largest in China, for their shopping. It's well stocked... and even includes a supermarket, because of all the foreign diplomats in the area.

The Beijing Zoo: The zoo is located in the northwest section of the city, not far from the modern exhibition center. It's a well-maintained zoo, and you should make a brief stop here to see the pandas, which are just inside the main entrance.

The Sacred Way: As you approach the Sacred Way, you'll first see from your bus, a pavilion with five gateways. A little farther will be a massive structure 120 feet high. Next will be a twin-roofed pavilion. A few hundred yards further, the famous Avenue of Animals will begin. These stone animals had first been placed before tombs during the reign of Han... B.C. 206. Here, there is a row of animals on either side of the road, one pair being spaced equidistant from the next pair. There are always 6 animals represented: a lion, a mythical beast, a horse, a camel, elephant, and another mythical beast. Each animal is depicted standing and in a kneeling position... for a total of 24. These stone sculptures are huge and you'll admire them greatly, after the animals, there are 6 "guardians"... huge sculptures of soldiers. (While your bus is parked for you to take in the Sacred Way, you'll be surrounded by vendors whom have set up stalls in the parking areas. Fun!).

Tomb of Emperor Wan Li (Ding Ling): The entrance gate has three arched doors set into the wall. Enter and walk along a path toward a terrace with red colored wall on either side. Three stairs lead to the terrace of a building where sacrifices were made. Continue and pass through a gateway leading to a large square tower crowned by a pavilion. This tower forms part of the wall that encircles the mound of earth (tomb). At the foot of the tower is a stone altar with two stone vessels. To enter the tomb, go down three flights of stairs into the earth. The first chamber is modern, but do notice the marble gates leading from it to the next chamber. They are 6-inch-thick slabs. Another pair of stone doors lead to the central chamber where there are three altars. Another doorway leads into the last chamber, which is the largest, and which contains the stone bases where the coffins of the emperor and empress were placed.

Tomb of Emperor Yong Le (Yong Ling): Yong Le was the first Ming emperor to be buried in the Sacred Area (1424). Enter through 3 huge doorways set into a huge gate, which is part of the wall enclosing the grounds and the tomb. Inside, in the courtyard is a twin-roofed pavilion, which encloses an over-fed sculpture of a dragon. Look at the beautiful ceiling. At the end of this first courtyard stands the Gate of Eminent Favors with 3 doorways and a single roof of yellow glazed tiles. Pass down the stairway on the side of the gate and enter a second courtyard. It's a long courtyard with large pine trees. At the end of the courtyard is the Hall of Eminent Favors, a twin-roofed building on a 3-tiered white marble terrace. Again, 3 sets of stairs lead up to the building. Inside, the hall is surrounded with 32 giant columns made from single tree trunks. Notice the ceiling here, also. Upon leaving this building, immediately ahead is another gate leading to a final courtyard. The path leads through a small arch to a sacrificial altar. Behind the altar is the Square Tower with the Ming Lou pavilion on top. There is a tunnel sloping upwards through the Square Tower leading to the pavilion which houses the burial mound of earth. This tomb has not been excavated and archeologists around the world are excitedly curious about its probable contents.

The Summer Palace: Located 45 minutes from Beijing, The Summer Palace is an excellent place to visit for relaxation...but a lot of Chinese feel the same way, and you'll probably find it very crowded. The first Palace built here was during the 12th century...and the area became known as The Summer Palace, because all the court stayed here during summer to avoid the heat of Beijing. Some of those early palaces and pavilions were burned down by the Anglo-French in 1860, and the place fell into ruins. In 1888 the Empress Dowager Ci Xi rebuilt the area with large sums of money, which were "supposed" to be used to expand the Chinese Navy. That's ironic, because one of the top sights in the area is a non-floating Marble Barge located at the edge of the lake. It's a marvelous sight to see this elaborate and beautiful ship reflected on the water... appearing to float. The other major attractions here are The Eastern Palace Gate, The Benevolence and Longevity Palace, The Palace of Virtue and Harmony, The Jade Waves Palace, The Palace of Joy and Longevity, and the Palace of Orderly Clouds... all joined by covered walkways with beams painted to depict historical events of Hangzhou.

Bei Hai Lake and Park: Located in the hilly section across from the exit of the Forbidden City, Bei Hai is one of 3 Imperial Lakes in Beijing... located in an attractive, beautifully landscaped park. Close to the southeast shore is an island... on top of which is a famous landmark... The White Pagoda, which was built by Emperor Shun Zhi in 1651. Near the southeast gate, the curved wall is the Round Town, which was once an island. The walls of this tower were built in 1417 to protect Kubilai Khan. The most important building in the area is the Hall Which Receives The Light. The view of surrounding lake, the landscape, and the city of Beijing from the hill is outstanding.

Jing Shan... Coal Hill Park: Located north of the Forbidden City, and easy to recognize because of the five pavilions on the hill. When you enter at the southern wall, the first structure will be The Beautiful View Tower. The path from here leads up the hill to the top where the Pavilion Of Ten Thousand Springs is located... and a magnificent panorama of Beijing. One story claims that the area got its name because the Emperor had coal buried under the central hill...but no evidence of this has ever been found.

Drum Tower and Bell Tower: This is one of the oldest buildings in Beijing... over 700 years old. It's a solid brick base intersected by passageways. Above the base is a pavilion with a balcony and a triple roof. Drums used to be beaten from the tower at sunset every day. The Bell Tower is just north of the Drum Tower. It was the first constructed under the Ming, but the present building was constructed in 1736-96. It once housed a giant iron bell.

Lama Temple: This temple is at the northern end of Dongsi Street and at one time was the palace of the prince who later became emperor. According to the custom at that time, it then became "forbidden ground", but later this emperor's son made the temple into a lamesery devoted to the cult of the living lama. The first courtyard leads toward the Hall of The Celestial Guardians, where there is a statue of Buddha surrounded by the guardians. In the 2nd courtyard stands the Hall of Eternal Harmony, which also houses statues of Buddha. In the 3rd courtyard is the Hall of the Wheel of Dharma. Here is a 10-meter high bronze statue of Buddha. The tiny statues of Buddha seated in front of this large figure are highly venerated by all those in the lamasery. In the 4th courtyard stands the Pavilion of 10,000 Happiness, a triple-roof structure housing the standing image of Buddha in his Tibetan form.

In addition... time permitting... there's also:

Temple Of The White Cypress Grove ... from 1347.

Great Bell Temple: ...housing an enormous bell from 1403.

Yellow Temple: ... with its gold and white pagoda.

Temple of the Five Pagodas ... Indian in style... dating from 1473.

Temple of the Big Buddha ... in ruins... Buddha is no longer there.

The Underground City: This huge labyrinth of tunnels under the city were built as shelter against a nuclear attack. You might be curious, but the smell of urine and "sewer gas" should be enough to keep you away... even if your guide wants to take you here. It's best to wait outside and soak up the Beijing atmosphere.
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Author of this article is Gene Gill. For more information visit his website: Gene Gill Miniatures.
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