Familiarity Breeds Contempt

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by TianjinPaul on March 9, 2010

Familiarity breeds contempt. This may be something of a cliché, but my experiences with Beijing's Forbidden City proved that it can most certainly be the case, even with the most awe-inspiring of sights. To begin this review, I would like to re-wind to the balmy September of 2005. I had been working in Korea for a year when a friend of mine and I decided to take the boat to China for a two-week vacation. During that period, I fell deeply and madly in love with the Middle Kingdom and decided that instead of finding a job back in England, I should live in China for a while.

A while turned out to be four fabulous years, during which my love for the country grew and grew. However, at the same time a sense of indifference and even of animosity began to grow towards the Forbidden City. The reason behind this was simple. Every time any of my friends or family came to China, the first thing they wanted to see was … the Forbidden City. By the time my father and his new partner arrived in the Spring of 2009 I was on visit number eight, and was truly sick of the place.

Naturally, my rather cynical attitude towards the Forbidden City is nothing to do with the beauty of the place. It is without doubt, one of the most stunning man-made creations in the whole world. Therefore, to give a more accurate, less negative review, I need to think back to 2005 and my initial impressions of the City.

Any trip to the Forbidden City should begin in Tiananmen Square – you can also enter through the North Gate, but this is pointless as it is far less impressive. The front gate to the city is large and overpowering, painted in bright red paint and crowned with a picture of Mao Zedong. To get inside, you have to pass through three such gates. At first, this confused my friend Alana and I as these were so impressive in themselves that we wondered if we had somehow slipped inside without paying the entrance fee. However, these thoughts were soon dispelled when we arrived at an even larger gate at the foot of which were a series of ticket booths.

To get through the Forbidden City, visitors must walk in a straight line South to North. In a bizarre way, much of this process, almost reminded me of a Babushka doll in reverse. Whereas the doll gets smaller with every layer, the Forbidden City seemed to get more dramatic with every gate or building we passed. This had already been the case with the entrance. Then, as we passed through the imposing main gate, we were greeted by the first of the main palace buildings. These buildings themselves got more dramatic and more ornate, until we reached the highpoint. The main palace building, which was truly awe-inspiring.

On my first trip, this was enough for me. The shock and awe of the main buildings left me open mouthed. However, on trips two, three and four, I was able to spend some time exploring the smaller out-buildings to the side of the main structure, which were equally beautiful, only far more small and delicate. It seemed as though only after two or three trips had I actually managed to see everything. Sadly, then I went into overkill. By trip eight there was nothing new for me to see and the city had lost its magic.

Despite my cynical outlook, the Forbidden City is certainly worth the visit. In fact, it is one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. Entrance in the summer is around 75rmb, but is cheaper in the winter. It is easy to find as every hotel and hostel runs an excursion and is right next to the subway.
Forbidden City
North Of Tiananmen Square Dong Cheng District
Beijing, China, 100009
+86 (0)10 6512 2255


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