China’s Forbidden City Is More Accessible Than Ever
The complex brought in 17 million visitors last year
In 1912, the Chinese Revolutionary Alliance toppled the Qing Dynasty, which had reigned for 400 years, and established the Republic of China, which lasted until the Chinese Communist Party overthrew them in 1949.
Amidst all this upheaval, the 180-acre Forbidden City, which is located in the very heart of Beijing, went from being the home of emperors to a history museum. Over the years, the Forbidden City was stripped of much of its ancient artwork and artifacts, and was at one point nearly razed to the ground by Chairman Mao. Somehow, it kept humming along, however weakly.
Since 2008, the UNESCO site has undergone multiple transformations. Before the Beijing Games, the Chinese government spruced up the imperial throne room, and in 2014, President Xi Jinping called for the museum that operates the Forbidden City to open and improve its exhibits, in an effort to stir national pride. The efforts have clearly paid off. Around 80% of the Forbidden City is now available to visitors (compared to just 30% in 2012), and last year, the complex pulled in its most visitors ever, at 17 million.
For reference, that’s over six million more visitors than the Louvre ticketed last year. That number’s only going to go up. The Forbidden City was a site to behold even when it was neglected — it’s the largest collection of ancient wooden buildings on the entire planet. And now, the Palace Museum has opened a number of new exhibits, like the Furniture Gallery, which features 300 fittings from the Qing Dynasty. True to form, that’s just a minuscule percentage of the 6,200 pieces the Palace Museum has stored back in its proverbial warehouse. Similar to the Vatican, the Forbidden City can only display 2% of its riches at one time.
This, plus the tourist influx, is why the Forbidden City plans to outsource some of its valuables to local college campuses in the coming years. If you’re planning on visiting China anytime soon, you can book a tour of the Forbidden City here. However, you might want to approach the Forbidden City as a full-day, make-it-up-as-you-go event. Stroll the abandoned military walkways around the facility, eat at one of the restaurants that’s opened within the walls, read a book under a tree. At its best, it’ll transport you back hundreds of years. At its least, it’s a respite from chaotic Beijing.
Before you fly to China, make sure to leave a month for obtaining a Tourist Visa (known as an L Visa), and confirm that your passport is valid up to six months.
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