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BEIJING

 

Beijing, the capital of China, lies just south of the rim of the Central Asian Steppes and is separated from the Gobi Desert by a green chain of mountains, over which The Great Wall runs. Modern Beijing lies on the site of countless human settlements that date back half a million years. Homo erectus Pekinensis, better known as Peking man was discovered just outside the city in 1929. It is China’s second largest city in terms of population and the largest in administrative territory.

 

The name Beijing – or Northern Capital – is a modern term by Chinese standards. It first became a capital in the Jin Dynasty (1115–1234), but it experienced its first phase of grandiose city planning in the Yuan Dynasty under the rule of the Mongol emperor, Kublai Khan, who made the city his winter capital in the late 13th century. Little of it remains in today’s Beijing. Most of what the visitor sees today dates from either the Ming or later Qing dynasties. Huge concrete tower blocks have mushroomed and construction sites are everywhere. Bicycles are still the main mode of transportation but taxis, cars, and buses jam the city streets.

 

No other city in China is so filled with grandeur and dignity. Cloaked in mystery and wonder, this huge and flourishing metropolis offers a brilliant cultural and historical perspective of the country. It boasts over cultural relics and many scenic spots of national importance, as well as precious artifacts and world-famous architectural wonders the names of which are on everyone's lips: the Great Wall, the Ming Tombs, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, the Temple of Heaven, Tian An Men square and many others. This huge and spread out city is a magnificent gateway to China and Chinese history, so a minimum of three nights should be spent there. The recent years have seen the emergence of many international chain hotels as well as the opening of old residences turned into hotels. The choice of type of accommodation is wider than before and can match any type of guests. Beijing has become an international city where shops, hotels and way of life become more and more similar to the ones in a lot of the Asian metropolis.

 

This trend will intensify as the city has been chosen last year to host the 2008 Olympic Games. Yet, despite and in parallel to the demolitions of huge parts of the old town to make way to modernization, the old Beijing style is still there, intact or recreated, also a new trend, blending old and new China.

 

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BEIJING – ATTRACTIONS

 

Great Wall

Construction of the Great Wall started in the 7th century B.C. The vassal states under the Chou Dynasty in the northern parts of the country each built their own walls for defense purposes. After the state of Chin unified China in 221 B.C., it joined the walls to hold off the invaders from the Tsongnoo tribes in the north and extended them to more than 10,000 li or 5,000 kilometers. This is the origin of the name of the 10,000-li Great Wall. The Great Wall was renovated from time to time after the Chin Dynasty. A major renovation started with the founding of the Ming Dynasty in 1368, and took 200 years to complete. The wall we see today is almost exactly the result of this effort. With a total length of over 6,000 kilometers, it extends to the Jiayu Pass in Gansu Province in the west and to the mouth of the Yalu River in Liaoning Province in the east. The Great Wall, (Wanli Changcheng) literally means the Ten Thousand Mile Wall, is a great fortification in ancient China. Badaling, Mutianyu and Simatai are the three most famous sections of the great wall.

 

Badaling great wall

The section at Badaling is the most famous of all due to its proximity to Beijing City and condition of restoration. The imposing Badaling Great Wall climbs up and down, twists and turns along the high mountain ridges. It fully shows the lofty quality of ancient Chinese labor people.

 

Badaling Great Wall, with more than 1000 meters above sea level, occupies a commanding and strategic position. It is a defensive outpost of the Great Wall. It is called "Bada" as it stretches in all directions. Badaling Great wall was built in the 18th year of the Ming Hong Zhi reign (1505). The wall, built with high stone slabs on the outside, is 7.8 meters high on the average, some even reaches 8.4meters. The base of the wall was built with more than 2000 large rectangular slab of granite stones. It is about 6.5 meters wide on the average at its base and 5.7 meters wide on the average on the ramparts. The wall is wide enough for five horses to gallop abreast and ten people to advance shoulder to shoulder. The outside of the wall is called rampart wall. The rampart wall was built with bricks 1.7 meters high. Built for the purpose of defense, there are holes on the tip of the wall called watch-hole, and peepholes under the wall called embrasures. Inside of the wall, there are low walls with one meter high called parapets, which can be used as railings. There is a scroll door not far from the inside wall, with is a stone ladder for climbing up and down.

 

Mutianyu great wall

Located in Huairou County 70km northeast of Beijing, Mutianyu section of Great Wall is connected with Juyongguan Pass in the west and Gubeikou Gateway in the east. As one of the best-preserved parts of the Great Wall, Mutianyu section of Great Wall used to serve as the northern barrier defending the capital and the imperial tombs. First built in the mid-6th during the Northern Qi dynasty, Mutianyu Great Wall is older than Badaling Great Wall. In the Ming dynasty, under the supervision of General Xu Da, construction of the present wall began on the foundation of the wall of Northern Qi. In 1404, a pass was built in the wall. In 1569, the Mutianyu Great Wall was rebuilt and till today most parts of it are well preserved. The Mutianyu Great Wall has the largest construction scale and best quality among all sections of Great Wall. Built mainly with granite, the wall is 7-8 meters high and the top is 4-5 meters wide. Comparing with other sections of Great Wall, Mutianyu Great Wall possesses unique characteristics in its construction.

 

Simatai great wall 

Unlike the sections to be seen at Badaling or Mutianyu that have undergone extensive restoration, the wall at Simatai has received very little attention. Here, the wall really looks as one would expect it to look some 500 years after it was built during the Ming Dynasty. The local people are proud of this monument and proclaim that it was as a consequence of visiting Simatai that UNESCO was convinced the wall should be listed as a World Heritage site. It towers over the nearby villages and farmland as it winds its way like the spiny back of a dragon over the sharply clipped peaks of the mountains. Because this section has retained much of its original 500 year old features it offers a quite hazardous passage to those who wish to walk along it. Needless to say, the inherent dangers offer a challenge that is quite inresistable to dedicated hikers in quest of adventure. An additional attraction is that as Simatai is some 130 kilometers (80 miles) to the north-east of Beijing it is well beyond the reach of the huge crowds of tourists that throng the more popular and accessible parts of the Wall.

 

Huangyaguan Great Wall

28 km north of Jixian Country, which is about 120 km north from Tianjin, there is another section of the Great Wall which is less known to foreigners. The Great Wall at Huangyaguan was originally built in 557 and rebuilt during the Ming Dynasty. This section of the Great Wall has features different with those in Beijing. There is now an international marathon held on the Great Wall annually. 140 kilometers at the north-east end of Beijing City, there is a section of the Great Wall, called Jinshanling Great Wall. It is 90 kilometers to the Mountain Resort of Chengde. A tablet with the Chinese inscription of "Jinshanling Great Wall" was set in this section.

 

Jinshanling Great Wall

On the right is the full view of the Jinshanling Great Wall. Its east end connects to the Simatai Great Wall. Jinshangling Great Wall got its name because it was built on the bigger and the smaller Jinshan Mountains. The Jinshanling Great Wall was initially built from 1368 to 1389 in the Ming Dynasty, and in 1567 or 1570 rebuilding of the Wall was mainly directed by General Qi Jiguang. Poems and tablet writings can be found on the Jinshanling Great Wall left from the time Qi Jiguang directed building of this section of the Great Wall. The total length of this section is about eleven kilometers (6.8 miles), and the scenic spot of the Jinshanling Great Wall has an area of 32 square kilometers. The Wall is about seven to eight meters high and five to six meters wide, which is made of brick and stone. The Jinshanling Great Wall has an elevation of 700 meters. Watching Beijing Tower is on the highest position, from which you can see Beijing. The Jinshanling Great Wall is second only to the Badaling Great Wall in its completeness.

 

Ming Tombs

50 kilometers northwest from Beijing City lies the Ming Tombs - the general name given to the mausoleums of 13 emperors of the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644). The mausoleums have been perfectly preserved, as has the necropolis of each of the many emperors. Because of its long history, palatial and integrated architecture, the site has a high cultural and historic value. The layout and arrangement of all thirteen mausoleums are very similar but vary in size as well as in the complexity of their structures. It was originally built only as Changling, the tomb of Emperor Zhuli and his empresses. This is the most magnificent of the tombs. The succeeding twelve emperors had their tombs built around Changling. Only the Changling and Dingling tombs are open to the public. Changling, the chief of the Ming Tombs, is the largest in scale and is completely preserved. The total internal area of the main building is 1956 square meters. There are 32 huge posts, and the largest measures about 14 meters in height. It represents Emperor Zhuyuanzhang, the founder of Ming Dynasty. Travel China Guide recommends the Lingsi Palace in its second yard as really deserving a visit. This is unique as it is the only huge palace made of camphor wood. It covers about 1956 square meters. The ceiling is colorfully painted and supported by sixteen solid camphor posts. The floor was decorated with gold bricks.

 

Summer Palace

The Summer Palace lies about 20 km northwestern outskirts of Beijing, it is up to now the best preserved and the largest imperial gardens in China. In 1153, the Emperor of the Jin Dynasty Wan Yanliang built a temporary palace here called the "Garden of Golden Waters" as his summer resort. In 1888, the Empress Dowager Ci'xi decided to spend the money originally earmarked for the Chinese Navy and rebuilt the garden, she herself gave it its present name of Yi He Yuan (Garden of Cultivated Harmony), and the Chinese inscription of the name was written in Emperor Guangxu's handwriting. Since then, the Empress Dowager Ci'xi started to spend every summer here and had it restored after it was damaged again in 1900. Hence the name, the Summer Palace.

 

The main features of the Summer Palace are Kunming Lake and Longevity Hill. Like most imperial palaces in China, the Summer Palace is divided into three parts: Halls for political affairs, living quarters and religious buildings. The most important structures of the Summer Palace is: Painting Walkway, the longest walkway in the Chinese gardens with altogether over 14,000 traditional Chinese paintings on the beams and crossbeams. Marble Boat, which was built for the 50th birthday celebration of Empress Dowager Ci'x, and where can enjoy the hazy scene over the lake in rainy days.

 

Tian’men Square

Tiananmen Square is the immense plaza located close to the centre of China's capital Beijing, named for the Tiananmen ('Gate of Heavenly Peace') which stands to its north. The square, one of the largest such plaza's in the world, has great cultural and historical importance for the Chinese nation as it was the location for a number of significant incidents in the history of the nation.

 

The Temple of Heaven 

The Temple of Heaven comprises of a compound of structures of the Taoist faith, located in central Beijing. The temple was frequented by the Qing and Ming Emperors for annual supplications to Heaven requesting a good harvest. In imperial times the Emperor of China was considered to be the Son of Heaven, who regulated worldly matters on behalf of the heavenly powers. Therefore it was imperative for the Emperor to show due respect for the supreme divine forces by performing sacrifices and rites honouring them and showing his devotion.

 

The Forbidden City

The Forbidden City located at the center of Beijing served as the imperial palace of the Chinese Emperor during a span of nearly 500 years, from the era of the Ming dynasty up to the final period of the Qing dynasty. In this period the compound, with its majestic buildings, was used as the emperor's residence as well as the political and ceremonial seat of the Chinese government. No less than 24 consecutive emperors resided at the site.

 

The Lama Temple 

The monikers of the Yonghe Temple are many; locals call it the Lama Temple while it also retains its more lyrical name of the "Palace of Peace and Harmony", indisputably the largest major lamasery which still endures in a perfect state of preservation. It is one of the crown jewels of Beijing’s imperial architecture; a 17th century princely abode of the Qing Dynasty turned one of the most prominent centres of Tibetan Buddhism in the world. This historic monument of the Dongcheng District narrowly escaped the purges of the Cultural Revolution and today boasts several footnotes in the Guinness Book of World Records.

 

Ancient Observatory 

Over the course of the Ming and Qing dynasty, much time was spent observing the phenomena of the skies. One of the world’s oldest and functioning observatories can be found in the city of Beijing.

 

Bei Hai Park

Bei Hai Park is a magnificent imperial garden in China's capital Beijing. Originally built in the 10th century, it ranks with the vastest of Chinese gardens, and features a multitude of historically significant temples, palaces and other structures. Spanning a total of more than 69 hectares, more than half of the park's area is covered by lake waters. At the centre of the waters can be seen the island known as Qionghua. The compound of buildings adjoining the southern side of the gardens serves as the residence of China's supreme leaders.

 

Beijing Underground City

As a relic of the Soviet-Sino border conflict the Beijing Underground City was built to sustain 40% of the population in the event of nuclear war or aerial attack to the city. What started in 1969 took 10 years to complete, and was done mainly by the local citizens. Using crude tools to carve out this vast network of tunnels, it was under the direction of Chairman Mao that this amazing feat was accomplished. Today, the Beijing Underground City has become popular among Beijing tourist attractions and is a unique look at a Chinese defense mechanism.

 

Hutong Square

The hutong is a unique feature of Chinese cities, being essentially a quadrangle of dwellings encircling a central courtyard, an architectural feature that carries great traditional significance in old-world Chinese communal values. This complex is walled off from adjoining hutongs and connected by a winding network of alleyways which create a bewildering labyrinth. Although in olden times citizens of all statuses and affluences lived in hutongs, the Maoist regime saw many of these dwelling places transformed into congested shanties before finally emerging in the new economy as a form of protected close-knit heritage community which is undergoing a gradual gentrification.

 

Panjiayuan Antique Market 

Beijing is a true ancient citadel of the world, and an aspiring and confident city that is blanketed in history and weaves a spell on the beholder. Iconic tourist attractions in Beijing include the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen Square, a part of the Great Wall and the Lama Temple. Whilst many age old relics can be found, today, Beijing boasts some of the most modern architecture in the world, making it a seamless blend of yesterday and tomorrow.

 

National Grand Theatre

The National Grand Theatre or the National Centre for the Performing Arts is one of the most futuristic architectural creations in historic Beijing. This facility spreads across 12000sqm and is surrounded by a beautiful artificial lake. Completed at an approximated 300 million Euros by French architect Paul Andreu, this fascinating structure shares its neighbourhood with some of the richest historic sites in Beijing such as the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square.

 

Peking (Beijing) Opera House 

The Peking Opera House is well known as a focal point of traditional Chinese operatic tradition. Peking Opera, also known as the Beijing Opera, is a complex and intricate form of authentic Chinese theatre, featuring a combination of vocal performance, music, dance, miming and acrobatics. This form of opera initially developed in the latter part of the 18th century, and achieved maturity in the 19th century. This art form was hugely popular during the Qing dynasty, and has been recognized as one of the cultural treasures of China.

 

Wangfujing Street 

Beijing is a city that glories in being both one of the greatest historic citadels of the nation's imperial past as well as being a fully industrialized modern metropolis befitting its crown as the present-day capital. Three million cars speeding over a myriad of flyovers against a backdrop of sprawling neon-lit plazas and the majestic spires of imperial temples represents a snapshot of the oddly-harmonious dichotomy of Beijing. This incongruence is heightened upon closer inspection; streets which appear to be Asia's answer to the Champs-Elysees are peopled with Beijing denizens who appear to have eschewed the incredible pace of their peers in Hong Kong and Shanghai in favour of embracing a more laid-back lifestyle.

 

Yuan Ming Yuan (Old Summer Palace)

Yuan Ming Yuan, initially known as the Imperial Gardens and sometimes called the Old Summer Palace, was formerly a mammoth compound of gardens and palaces, some of which can be seen even today. It is located in close proximity to the famed Summer Palace.