China’s capital is one of the oldest cities in the world, with a rich, extensive history stretching back over three millennia. This history is exemplified by the plethora of physical relics, which convey a rich portrait of the city’s long, illustrious history. However, Beijing is not just a blast from China’s past but a thriving, massive modern city. The ancient and the ultra-modern sit side by side in one of the most world’s most culturally and historically rich cities.
Great Wall of China
The country’s defining landmark and one of the greatest architectural legacies in history, the Great Wall of China needs little introduction. Built over several centuries with the first fortifications established in the 7th Century BC. Covering an immense distance of over 21,000 kilometres, the Great Wall of China was built as a defensive measure against Nomadic tribes of the Steppe. The majority of the modern day wall was built during the Ming Dynasty, which remains intact today and highly popular amongst tourists. The wall is easily accessible from Beijing, and well worth a visit so to marvel at one of the greatest achievements in human history.
Dating back to the 15th Century, the Forbidden City is another key contribution of the Ming Dynasty. A palatial complex, the Forbidden City was the main residence of the Chinese Emperor for nearly 500 Years. An enormous complex covering 180 acres and containing 980 buildings, the Forbidden City is rightly one of Beijing’s biggest tourist attractions. The traditional buildings are the most grandiose in the entire country, while the adjacent Palace Museum is one of the city’s most interesting. An unmissable destination for visitors to the city.
Temple of Heaven
Another essential site in Beijing, the Temple of Heaven is one of China’s most recognisable and impressive complexes. Built in the early 15th Century during the rule of the Ming Dynasty around the same time as the Forbidden City, it is rightly considered to be one of the finest and most influential pieces of architecture in Chinese history. Functioning as a Taoist temple and public area, the building is known for its distinct exterior and intricate interior.
One of the most beautiful landmarks in the country, the Summer Palace covers an area of nearly 3 square kilometres. The vast complex of beautiful and hugely influential buildings are complimented by the stunning natural backdrop of Kunming Lake and Longevity Hill. Without a doubt one of the most picturesque and culturally significant examples of Chinese design, the Summer Palace is another unmissable destination for visitors.
One of the most significant locations in Chinese history, Tienanmen Square is best known in the West for the massacre in 1989, which occurred within its confines. Tienanmen Square is one of the largest public squares in the world, bordering the entrance to the Forbidden City and containing a number major sites and museums, most notably the National Museum of China, the Monument to the People’s Heroes, the Great Hall of the People and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong. For its cultural and historical significance, Tienanmen Square is a vital destination.
The Ming Dynasty is widely considered by historians to be one of the most essential periods in Chinese history, lasting nearly 300 years and seeing the Empire reach unprecedented heights of power. The Ming Tombs, a vast collection of mausoleums, is the most clear celebration of the dynasty and an incredibly impressive historical site. It is one of the best places to gain an insight into the sheer importance of the dynasty to China’s history.
A former Imperial garden, Beihai Park has been open to the public for nearly 100 years. Considered to be one of the most impressive and beautiful Chinese gardens in the world, Beihai Park is one of the best places to escape from Beijing’s frantic and relentless pace. Having been built nearly 1000 years ago, the park is one of the most serene spots in the entire city, with its pavilions and large lake providing beautiful views.
789 Art Zone
Beijing is renowned for its thriving contemporary art scene, with a plethora of new museums and galleries popping up in recent years. 798 Art Zone is doubtlessly one of the most essential hubs of this vibrant community. A large complex of abandoned military factories, the 789 Art Zone has become an increasingly vital cultural institution in Beijing since its repurposing as an artistic space. Over the past few decades there have been a number of significant art exhibitions at the various galleries in the complex while it also functions as a cultural centre hosting film festivals amongst other events. It is perhaps the best place to get a glimpse of the city’s contemporary artistic culture.
Beijing Ancient Observatory
Another important relic of the Ming Dynasty, the Beijing Ancient Observatory was built in the mid-15th Century and is one of the world’s oldest observatories. Now a part of the larger Beijing Planetarium Museum, the observatory is especially worth checking out as one of China’s most significant scientific and historical sites. The Observatory is one of the clearest celebrations of the Ming Dynasty’s major advancements.
Old Summer Palace
Once deemed the “Garden of Gardens”, the Old Summer Palace was devoted during the Second Opium War in 1860 by British and French vandalism and looting. Sadly, the ruins are a shadow of their former selves, once the most illustrious of all gardens in China. Regardless, the Old Summer Palace remains one of the city’s standout attractions. Even the remnants give visitors a sense of just how spectacular the Palace once was.
main image: courtesy of Antoine Gady, Flickr Creative Commons