I simply adore Beijing's Forbidden City. I have been to Beijing four times but have been to The Forbidden City over fifty times. I love it more than I could possibly describe and very few people can understand my fascination with it. A lot of people who come to The Forbidden City take the four hour tour and find it boring. They think it is building followed by a courtyard followed by another building and another courtyard and in a way it is, but it is the history of these buildings and courtyards and their functions that are truly amazing. Sadly, most guides are not knowledgeable enough to go into much detail.
The Forbidden City is a palace that was under constant construction for 500 years. It was a living entity and everything in it was done with great ceremony and attention to detail. Every corner is steeped in history and if visitors could know this history and The Forbidden City's stories they would find it much more interesting. I think that people who are planning on going to The Forbidden City should read up on it a bit first before coming to China. Many people purchase a book in one of The Forbidden City's bookstores to take home. Once they return home, they read the book and begin to learn about The Forbidden City, but by that point it is too late. They're already back home.
When I visit The Forbidden City I always have a plan as to what part I want to visit on a particular day. I always enter at northern gate of The Forbidden City because it rarely has many visitors. The north gate's name is translated as the Gate of Divine Might or the Gate of Divine Prowess. Most visitors enter through the south gate (Tiananmen).When the gates open I rush to whatever part of The Forbidden City I want to visit for the day. This allows me to get spectacular photos without hundreds of heads blocking the shot.
Most people head straight for the throne rooms, so if you want to get really wonderful photos go to the Inner Court area in the north of The Forbidden City. It usually takes visitors about an hour to make it that far in.
The fact that I have an intimate knowledge of every building, its history and stories really makes each visit to The Forbidden City so wonderful. Many people get bored looking at the many seemingly identical buildings. If visitors take the time to really look at the buildings, beyond their golden roofs and red walls, they will see that each building is unique and has very little similarity from each other.
Every roof design, doors, windows, details, ceiling design, wood carvings, and even door handles are unique. These differences can explain a great deal about the building and its functions. Each building is totally unique and the functionality of each room is different. Some buildings are meant to be imposing and regal, and some are intimate and meant to give the feeling of warmth, and some are meant to simply show the extravagance and glory that the Son of Heaven demanded.
I have taken almost ten thousand photos. I know my photos are not the normal panoramic shots of groups of buildings, but are instead photos of details, small parts of the whole which make up this grand palace.
I hope that if you ever get the chance to visit The Forbidden City that you take the time to actually observe the marvels around you and not rush through it.