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 this metropolis is China’s political, cultural, and educational center with many top universities and most head offices of China’s largest state-owned companies located here. Beijing is also a also major transportation hub, with dozens of railways, roads and highways passing through the city, and many international flights to China fly here. With centuries of history, almost every major building of any age in Beijing has some sort of historical significance.
Ming Tombs – Located approximately 51 kilometers north of central Beijing and less than 50 minutes away from Fraser Residence Beijing by car, 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 Chinese monarch buried here was Emperor Yongle, who personally selected his burial site and created his own mausoleum. Perfectly preserved, each mausoleum has a long history and a unique traditional Chinese architecture giving the site a high cultural and historic value. The thirteen mausoleums have similar layouts and arrangements but differ in complexity and size. For instance, the last Ming monarch buried here was emperor Chongzhen. Hanged in April 1644 by his Qing predecessor, emperor Chongzhen’s burial was on a much smaller scale than his predecessors. The Ming Tombs are found in a 40 square kilometer area — enclosed by the mountains in a pristine, quiet valley. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a very popular destination for both locals and visitors who seek to get away from the hustle and bustle of the packed 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 is the largest in scale and is completely preserved. The tomb is the eternal resting place of 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.
Opening hours: Ming Changling Tomb: 8:30 to 17:30, Ming Dingling Tomb: 8:30 to 18:00Ming Zhaoling Tomb: 8:30 – 17:30
Temple of Heaven – Built in 1420 A.D. during the Ming Dynasty, this temple occupies an area of about 2,700,000 square meters, bigger than the Forbidden City. The Temple of Heaven is surrounded by a long wall and the northern section within the wall is semicircular, representing the heavens. The southern portion is squarish in shape, representing mortal earth. This unique design is based on an ancient Chinese belief that heaven is shaped round while earth is shaped like a square. The main buildings of this sacred temple is located at the south and north ends of the inner sanctum. Visitors are recommended to keep an eye out for some of the more impressive monuments like the Circular Mound Altar, Imperial Vault of Heaven and Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest. While exploring the temple, you will discover that almost all of the buildings are connected by a wide bridge called Vermilion Steps Bridge or Sacred Way. During the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368 A.D. – 1911 A.D.), the emperors would offer sacrifice to Heaven on the day of the Winter Solstice every year. This ceremony took place on the Circular Mound Altar and was performed to give thanks to Heaven and also to pray for a good future.
This photo of Temple of Heaven (Tiantan Park) is courtesy of TripAdvisor
Inside the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest are 28 huge posts. The four most inner posts represent the four seasons: spring, summer, autumn and winter. The 12 posts in the middle represent the 12 months in a year, and the 12 posts along the exterior represent the 12 Shichen (Shichen is a means of counting time in ancient China. One Shichen is the equivalent of two hours and a whole day was divided into 12 Shichens). The roof of the hall is covered with black, yellow and green colored glaze representing the heavens, the earth and everything on earth. If you look at the Imperial Vault of Heaven from a distance, you will notice that the Vault is resembles a blue umbrella with a gold tip. The vault was used as a place to store the memorial tablets of Chinese deities. Connecting the vault and the hall is the Vermilion Steps Bridge. In ancient China, the emperors believed that this bridge was the bridge connecting mortal earth to heaven and that by crossing it, would bring them to the promised land. Separated into two paths, the ‘Yu‘ and the ‘Wang‘ are on two sides of the bridge. Only emperors were permitted to walk on the ‘Yu‘ path while princes and senior government officials went by the ‘Wang‘ path.
Here are some interesting things you can do in the temple, located outside the Imperial Vault of Heaven is the Three Echo Stones. If you speak facing the Vault while standing on the first stone, you will hear one echo; standing on the second and then the third stone, you will hear two and three echoes respectively. Another popular feature of the temple is the Echo wall surrounding the vault. Due to its unique design and utilizing sound waves theory, if you stood at either side of the wall and whisper, another person standing at the opposite end would be able to hear you clearly!
Jingshan Park – This beautiful royal landscape garden is located right in the center of the city. Facing the Forbidden City, the park covers an area of 230,000 square meters (about 57 acres) and is found on Jingshan Hill. During the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, Jingshan Hill served as an imperial garden for the royals. During the Ming dynasty, many palaces and pavilions were built for the emperor and the royal family. Subsequently in 1928, the park was opened to the public and today, Jingshan Park is considered one of the most scenic spots in China and a must-see for visitors in Beijing. When visitors first enter the park, the Qiwang Pavilion will be one of the first things they see. Surround by white marble balustrades, the two storied structure with a golden glazed roof gives off a diginified aura. This particular pavilion was used by the emperors to worship the memorial tablet of Confucius embraced by the vigorous green cypresses.
This photo of Jingshan Park (Yingshan Gongyuan) is courtesy of TripAdvisor
Jingshan Hill has five summits, with a pavilion on each summit. Among the five pavilions, the Wanchun Pavilion (middle of the five summits), is the highest point in Beijing. This vantage point is the perfect place to see a unobstructed view of this ancient city. From this pavilion, visitors are able to see the resplendent and magnificent Forbidden City in the south, the dignified Bell and Drum Towers in the north, as well as Beihai Park and White Dagoba Temple in the west. Finally Jingshan Park also has the biggest peony rose garden in Beijing and during May each year, over 20,000 peony roses of some 200 varieties come into full bloom, making the park a wonderful and colorful scene.
We’ll be back with our ‘things to do in Beijing’ series, in the meantime if there are any attractions you would like us to cover, drop us a comment and we’ll try our best 🙂