A sealed-off stomping ground for century upon century of emperors, Beijing's lauded
the reigns of 24 emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties, civilian Chinese were for-
bidden from even approaching its walls. With its maze of eight hundred buildings and
nine thousand chambers, the Forbidden City was the core of the capital, the empire,
surpassed in China for monumental scale, harmonious design and elegant grandeur.
This jaw-dropping specimen of dynastic splendour sits just off Tian'anmen Square , at over
400,000 square metres the greatest public space on earth. Symbolically the heart of the coun-
try, the square is an infamous place which in its austerity provides a complete contrast to the
luxury and ornament of the palace. Laid out in 1949, it's a modern creation in a city that,
traditionally, had no places where crowds could gather. As one of the square's architects put
it: “Beijing was a reflection of a feudal society… We had to transform it; we had to make
Beijing into the capital of socialist China.” They created a vast concrete plain bounded by
stern, monumental buildings, not least the Great Hall of the People to the west and the Na-
tional Museum of China to the east.