I'm travelling into a new way of working, a new country, a new language, and a new hobby which I'm passionate about. Come with me for some of the journey...

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Beijing - The Forbidden City Part I

Hello all!  I'm here with another travelogue (travelblogue? or a blog-post-card?  I'm sure there's wordplay in there somewhere, but I can't quite locate it).  Regulars will know I've been off on my work travels for the last couple of months, accompanying a Royal Shakespeare Company tour to some very exciting places.  So in addition to art journalling, there'll be the occasional bit of travel journalling here for a while so that I have a record of where I've been, and I hope you'll enjoy the trip too.

You've already had a wander around Central Park, NYC, with me, and we'll be returning to New York later, but before that let me take you to our first stop, Beijing.  This was way back in February so, despite these glorious blue skies, it was cold!  (Remember, you can click on the photos for a larger view.)


We didn't have a great deal of time to explore.  We spent only a week each in Beijing and Shanghai and, with three separate shows to put on in each city, much of our time was spent inside the theatres.  But I tried to make the most of what we had, and the one full day off in Beijing simply had to include the Forbidden City.  This is the first of a trio of posts on just that visit!






Before we get caught up in history though, here's where we were performing in Beijing... the National Centre for the Performing Arts - an extraordinary gleaming egg of a building.  (My nephew thought it looked like a spaceship!)








It's almost completely surrounded by a lake - and even once you're inside you walk under the surface of the water... a lovely calming effect as it ripples overhead.  This is just inside the entranceway you can see in the photo above, before entering the main shell of the egg.

Enough of work - back to the sightseeing...











It's hard to convey the sheer scale of the Forbidden City, a palace complex of more than 900 buildings over 180 acres.  It's essentially a display of power and wealth designed to overawe and humble anyone visiting the Emperor.  This is just the approach to the entrance...












... and the same building a little closer.  That's Mao Tse Tung, 20 foot high, over the central archway - still publically much lauded.















Once through the first fortress of a gateway, you progress through a series of courtyards and gatehouses and receiving rooms and offices and chambers.








It's nearly a kilometre from the first gatehouse in the south to the final Imperial chambers in the north, and about 3/4s kilometre across from east to west.  The outer wall is around 7 metres thick, 10 metres high and nearly 3.5 kilometres long, and outside that is a moat 6 metres deep and 52 metres wide.  Impregnable!  So your only approach to the seat of power is via the front gateway and through those awe-inspiring buildings and vast courtyards.


And I do mean vast - overwhelmingly huge, the size of several football pitches put together in some cases.  (This is not one of the largest, just one I tried out my panorama photo function on.)


I pretty much gave up trying to capture the size of the place with photos - there are aerial shots and views which do that better than I could - and became obsessed instead with the decorative detailing.







The whole complex was constructed between 1406 and 1420, and involved more than a million labourers and craftsmen.  Their skill is evident at every turn.














I could hardly believe the detail and decoration at rooftop level.














These roofs soar way above the heads of the visitors, so you turn your gaze upwards in awe and submission to admire the work...













... and your neck starts to ache!

These incredibly intricate gilded dragons and scrolls are tucked up way under the eaves.












It's obviously fairly gloomy under there compared to the bright sunlight; we're also at maximum zoom from ground level, and the netting doesn't help, so I'm afraid this is not a great photo; but I loved the dragons and the moulded dimensional ceramic ornamentation above.












The ceramic tiles - in their thousands - gleam in the sunlight, so rich in colour, with the gloss of the ceramic glazes adding extra intensity.












There is so much gilding and intricate detailing...









... that the overall effect is dazzling...
















(even to someone not much enamoured of red and gold in the general way of things)














... and each one of those circular tiles is exquisitely carved inside too.














These crouching (or sometimes walking) beasts on the corners of the rooftops were permitted only on official buildings in Imperial China - palaces, government buildings and temples.















The more important the activities carried on inside the building, the more beasts would be present on the rooftop (to a maximum of nine plus one figure of a man).










... and the dragon bringing up the rear represents the authority of the state.  (If you'd like to know more about the symbolism, take a look here.)

And the colour is important too - only the Emperor was allowed to use this Imperial Yellow glaze. 












How far you got through the sequence of courtyards and palaces depended, of course, on your status.  The lowlier visitor wouldn't make it beyond the first gatehouse, and would only meet with palace flunkies.












If you were allowed to progress further (ascending flights of stairs with each set of chambers in the sequence, so you head upwards as well as onwards) you might meet with more important functionaries and advisers.  And always and everywhere there are reminders of the wealth and power of the Emperor.







And as you finally reach the areas where you might encounter members of the Imperial family or household, the names of the palaces and halls are wonderful.  I'm not sure I'd feel particularly at home in the Palace of Heavenly Purity, but I'd love to spend some time in the Hall of Mental Cultivation!

I've spent longer than I intended dancing around on the rooftops, and I don't want to outstay my welcome, so I'll wait until the next Forbidden City post to share some of the incredible artistry and craftsmanship visible nearer ground level, as well as inside some of those inspiringly-named halls and chambers.

And in Part III, since you are all clearly very important, we'll progress all the way to the Imperial Garden, the Emperor's private retreat beyond the final Palace chambers.  I hope you'll be able to come and join me for more soon.



Travel changes you.  As you move through this life you leave marks behind, however small.  And in return, life - and travel - leaves marks on you.
Anthony Bourdain

42 comments:

Helen said...

what a fabulous opportunity you had - thanks for sharing these photos; look forward to the next instalments!

Lauren Hatwell said...

Wow! Absolutely breathtaking! Almost impossible to take it all in, I imagine. The trip of a lifetime, surely! I can't wait for the next visit. Thanks so much for sharing. Lx

carol edwards said...

Absolutely stunning and you have taken some fantastic photos. It really is awe inspiring how someone designed all of this let alone organised so many people to carry it all out. True Craftsmanship. Thank you so much for sharing these wonderful moments on what must be a trip of a lifetime x

Jane said...

What a brilliant post Alison, it's incredible how old the area is and the skills of the craftsmen is breathtaking. I love all the carved beasts on the roofs....I would love to visit. The theatre too is awesome, going under the lake....wow! Thanks for sharing and enjoy your ongoing travels xx

Astrid Maclean said...

Wow, totally incredible and awe inspiring. I have marvelled at the incredible detail of carving on Gothic cathedrals etc, but this is craftmanship taken to a whole different level still. Thanks so much for sharing this, as others said the trip of a lifetime, - I was unaware of just how vast this complex was..... can't wait for the next installment!

Amanda said...

Really enjoyed that, you can marvel at the photos but I can only imagine how stunning it must look to be there.
Love
Amanda x

brenda said...

Thank you so much for sharing these super pictures Alison, China has always been on my wish list and the one time we were booked for the trip I was not well enough to fly. So it's still on that list.

B x

sally said...

What a wonderful time you must have had- I shall be back for the next instalment so my neck will never have to be bent back in Beijing! It all looks beautiful but I confess that China is not a country that has ever called to me.

Sally x

Margie said...

Thanks for these great pictures Alison. I spent some time in Beijing many years ago and this post brought back some wonderful memories. We also walked on part of the Great Wall (a dream I'd had for years)only to be disappointed that it was so commercialised. When we reached the highest point of our journey we were offered a laminated certificate - oh yes, and a tea-towel! Still so pleased that we had the opportunity to visit such an amazing place.

chrissie said...

Amazing sights Alison and just be there and see theses things first hand must be amazing. Thank you for sharing the photographs and the experiences with us.

Love Chrissie xx

Pamellia Johnson said...

Wow Alison, what a breathtaking place to visit!! The architecture is beyond amazing, how lucky for you to get to see in all in person! hugs :)

Dorthe said...

Oh you lucky one, having had the possibility to see this amazing place, Alison.
Imagine living so rich with all those poor people living around the land barely able to get feed.....
There is such a kind of sickness to it, and all the same the eye, can`t stop looking and admire all this glory !!
Just amazing ,and also how they could built it, and add all the art to it.
This must be a major experience to see, for you.
Thank you for taking us with you !!
Dorthe, oox

rachel said...

A wonderful post alison ... i look forward to the next two with relish. It just looks so very amazing... i do love the egg too. And am amazed by the clarity of the sky. Shaun visitex beijing back in 2012 i think and he only remarked on pollution levels when he returned so my image of the city has been marked by his experiences. Good to read yours! Big hugs rachel x

Mrs.B said...

Amazing photos Alison, thanks for sharing. Glad you were able to make the most of your 'day off'
Avril xx

Marci said...

The pictures are great but I like even more your words. You have the ability to take us there with you. Thank you and looking forward to more.

Sandy said...

A once in a life time adventure - I enjoyed your pictures very much Alison and really look forward to more - lots more!!!!
Sandy xx

Lynn Price said...

Alison, what an incredible homage to these exquisite buildings! I cannot imagine the work of creating the plethora of minute details everywhere so perfectly! Absolutely stunning. And thanks for the picture of the "egg" - very intriguing building; I hope it served well theatrically as well! Looking forward to the next installment! xxx Lynn

Darcy UK said...

wow!!! seriously stunning. I would so love to travel to places like this, doubtful I ever will, so it is so fabulous to see them through your eyes. The patterns and details are just mind blowing.

Monika Gulyas said...

What a lucky girl you are to get such a fantastic places like the Forbidden City!!! Thanks for sharing your photos!!!

Kirsten said...

What an incredible adventure for you!! Thank you for sharing the photos with us.

Hazel Agnew said...

Please can I book a massage in "The hall of preserving" ....don't want to live forever, but would save me a fortune in lotions and potions! Wonderful adventure Alison! Loving the tour! The detail in the buildings is incredible! Xx

Meggymay said...

Wow, stunning photos Alison, I realy enjoyed my visit to see you tonight.
The buildings and detail must have been awesome to see in real life. Looking forward to the next part of the tour.
Yvonne xx

Lys Scrap said...

Thanks for sharing, Alison! Extraordinary places. I can't wait for the creations they will inspire you!

Redanne said...

Thank you so much for sharing these wonderful photos Alison. The workmanship is breathtaking and they have been incredibly well maintained since they were built. Thank you too for giving us the history behind them, it is so very interesting! I am already looking forward to Part 2 ! Anne xx

Julia said...

Thank you for sharing the pictures. What an amazing place.

Inky and Quirky said...

I love looking at people's travel photos....almost transported there myself Alison! You're right about the sheer vastness of it must be truly breathtaking
Hugs
Donna xx

Lisa S. said...

Wow, these pictures are awesome Alison. What a fabulous adventure!!!

craftytrog said...

Fantastic photos Alison! I'd love to go there! Thank you for sharing, an interesting read too.
Alison x

Brenda Brown said...

Stunning photos Alison and a fabulous history lesson. I am basking in the wonderful colours and architecture of the buildings of the forbidden city and reading about your visit. The theatre looks incredible but in a completely opposing and beautiful modern style, it must have been an amazing experience walking into it. TFS this part of your journey xxx

Coco said...

Wonderful photos, thanks for sharing and for this great post!!!
Loving the roofs and the ceramic tiles, they are really superb, wow... I have not seen myself this extraordinary place, so it's wonderful to read you and make the visit thanks to you.
Hugs, Coco xx

sam21ski said...

Well what more can I add - wow!!

Julie Ann Lee said...

Thank You, Alison, for sharing your amazing trip with us. The Forbidden City is somewhere I have longed to see, especially after those incredible shots in Bertolucci's film. Your photos are really excellent, as I can imagine it must be an incredibly difficult place to capture in all its vastness - and detail too!xx

Anita Houston said...

You've really peaked my curiosity for a place I've never thought about visiting. I didn't realize it was that old. The ornateness (If that's a word) is overwhelmingly fabulous. I'm in awe of everything and even the history. Thank you for sharing.

Jackie P Neal said...

Oh Alison!!
I waited till this morn to read this post with my coffee at hand. I knew I wanted to take my time and pour over these photos and your words!!
Absolutely exquisite and phenomenal!
As you say, the detail is -well,WOW! Those rooftops just blew me away with all of the fine detailed work. Those roof pieces look like giant pencils laid out. And those carved tiles-incredible! I am happy you spent this time on just the roofs and I look forward to the other posts yet to come- by all means, go over every detail and write as long as you like- I for one will be happy to read and view!
So incredible and fascinating to think these buildings were constructed so very long ago and still stand so strong And the wealth behind them is staggering! No sense democracy there right?!
Thank you so much for sharing your adventures- I look forward to more!!
hugs,Jackie

Neet said...

Your photos reminded me of my love of reading about China - novels and factual - such an interesting country and nation. Thank you so much for taking me back to my childhood dreams of one day visiting this country, which I did in 1997, and would love to do again.
Hugs, Neet xx

Julia Aston said...

Wonderful photos of the modern theater in stark contrast to the massive size and beauty of the Forbidden city - can you imagine keeping all of that in repair and accommodating so many people traveling through it?!!! Julia xx

Sue said...

These really are breathtaking, not the wealth, but the ideas and craftsmanship behind it all. It's just a shame that there was so much for so few - fancy having a colour that only an Emperor was allowed to use! xx

Deb~Paxton Valley Folk Art said...

What an amazing place Alison ,the detail and colours are truly amazing. Thanks for the tour and looking forward to seeing more! Deb xo

pearshapedcrafting said...

Wow! It's taken me until now to get to see this properly on a big screen! Considering how old this place is the decorations and carvings are just incredible. This is somewhere I will never get to visit so it's great to see your photos! Chrisx

Paper Profusion said...

I studied both parts 1 & 2 last night Alison. Thanks so much for sharing. It all looks wonderful and brings back happy memories. Just as well you didnt have your crafty toolkit with you on the day as it would have been verrrry tempting to rust up one of those metal cauldrons! I hope your time in Poland is going really well. Happy Weekend! Nicola x

Jenny Marples said...

Taking in all that Part 1 has to offer before moving on to Part 2 - the incredible artistry that has gone into those roofs is quite magnificent. I can imagine it's so much to take in for one short visit xx

Marjie Kemper said...

Sorry to be so very late to join the tour! I am so glad you shared all of these wonderful photos and memories. Thank you! Dazzling is right!!