Few cities in the world have a history as rich and immense as Beijing. The city has seen the reign of over 20 emperors and also a fair share of revolutionaries. Beijing literally means Northern Capital, and this city’s history dates back several thousand years. But Beijing first became notable in Chinese history after it was made the capital of the State of Yan under the name Yanjing. Some 2000 years ago, Yan was one of the major kingdoms of the Warring States. After the fall of Yan, during the Han and Tang dynasties, the Beijing-area was a major prefecture of northern China. Today, it is the political, cultural and educational epicenter of China with over 17 million people living in its 18 districts. Here are some of the things you can do in and around Beijing.
Ming Tombs – Located approximately 51 kilometers north of central Beijing, within the suburban Changping district of Beijing municipality, the Ming Tombs or Ming Dynasty Tombs represent the mausoleums of 13 emperors of the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644). The first emperor to be buried here was Emperor Yongle, who personally selected his burial site and created his own mausoleum. Each mausoleum has been perfectly preserved, and given its long history and unique traditional Chinese architecture, the site has a very high cultural and historic value. The thirteen mausoleums have similar layouts and arrangements but differ in complexity and size. For instance, the last Ming emperor to be buried here, was Chongzhen, who was hanged in April 1644 by his Qing predecessor. Emperor Chongzhen’s burial was on a much smaller scale than his predecessors. The Ming Tombs is found in a 40 square kilometer area — enclosed by the mountains in a pristine, quiet valley full of dark earth and tranquil water. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a popular destination for both locals and visitors who seek to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. At present, only two tombs are open to the public – Chang Ling, the largest; and Ding Ling, whose underground palace has been excavated.
This photo of Ming Tombs (Ming Shishan Ling) is courtesy of TripAdvisor
Chang Ling, the chief of the Ming Tombs, is the largest in scale and is completely preserved. It inhumes Emperor Zhudi, the fourth son of Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang. One of the top attractions here is the Ling’en Palace found in the second yard. It is a huge palace made entirely of camphor wood. The ceiling is colorfully painted and supported by sixteen solid camphor posts and the floor decorated with gold bricks. Ding Ling is the mausoleum of Emperor Zhu Yijun, the thirteenth emperor who reigned the longest during the Ming Dynasty, and his two empresses. The main features are the Stone Bridge, Soul Tower, Baocheng and the Underground Place, which was unearthed between 1956 and 1958. The entire palace is made of stone.
Given the enormity of the Ming Tombs and the complexity of its layout, it is recommended to spend a full day here to fully experience a glimpse of what life was like for an emperor during the Ming dynasty.
This photo of Beijing Capital Museum is courtesy of TripAdvisor
Capital Museum – Located in the Confucius Temple at 16 Fuxingmenwai Dajie, Xicheng District, the Capital Museum was formally opened in 1981 but its present building was only built in the late 1990s. Approved by Beijing Municipal Government in 1999, further approved by the State Council after being submitted by the National Development and Reform Commission in 2001, the New Capital Museum finally commenced its construction in December 2001. Today it contains over 200,000 cultural relics in its collection, only a small fraction of it are exhibited, and a significant percentage of the museum’s art collection come from artifacts unearthed in Beijing. Ever since the establishment of Beijing Capital Museum, it has held hundreds of different exhibitions from history, cultural relics, to revolutionary history and folk custom, etc.
This photo of Tiananmen Square (Tiananmen Guangchang) is courtesy of TripAdvisor
Tiananmen Square – Also called Gate of Heavenly Peace, Tiananmen Gate sits to the north of the Tiananmen Square, separating it and also connecting it to, the Forbidden City. It was on the rostrum of Tiananmen Gate that Mao Zedong declared the People’s Republic of China on October 1st 1949, which is why a large portrait of Mao hangs from the rostrum of Tiananmen Gate. Originally built during the Ming Dynasty in 1417 Tiananmen Square was once a royal plaza outside the Forbidden City. At that time it was enclosed by walls from east, west and south, and the common people were all prevented from entering. The gate was destroyed twice, what we see today was finally built in 1651. To the Chinese people, it has great cultural significance as it was the site of several important events in Chinese history.
This photo of Beijing Zoo is courtesy of TripAdvisor
Beijing Zoo – The Beijing Zoo is a zoological park in located in the Xicheng District. Occupying an area of almost 90 hectares, the zoo has over five hectares of lakes and ponds. Boasting over 450 species of land animals and over 500 species of marine animals, the Beijing zoo is one of the oldest zoos in China and certainly has one of the largest animal collections in the country with 14,500 animals calling it home. Founded in 1906 during the late Qing dynasty, more than six million visitors come to the zoo each year. Built like many of Beijing’s parks, the zoo’s grounds resemble classical Chinese gardens, with flower beds amidst natural scenery, including dense groves of trees, stretches of meadows, small streams and rivers, lotus pools and hills dotted with pavilions and historical buildings.
Visitors usually go to Beijing Zoo to see the famous Giant Pandas which are endemic to China and extremely popular with locals and tourists. However the zoo also has other rare animals such as the golden snub-nosed monkey, South China Tiger, white-lipped deer, Pere David’s Deer, crested ibis, Chinese Alligator and the Chinese Giant Salamander. Other endangered or threatened species include Siberian tiger, yak, Przewalski’s horse, snow leopard, Tibetan gazelle, and Kiang.