Guide to Beijing’s 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Asia

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While I visited China on a layover in Beijing, the city just stole my heart. I have been long fascinated by Beijing, from the time its name was more popular as Peking. In my native language China is called ‘चीन’ and when I was a kid my grandfather, who served in the Indian army, narrated many stories about the Chinese culture and Peking. Even today, चीन sounds more exotic to me than China. My main reason for the fascination with  Beijing was its beautiful architecture and the many walls, temples, and palaces – the entry to which was forbidden for commoners. Luckily, things have changed a lot since then and today, most of Beijing’s ancient monuments are preserved as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Beijing has a total of 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and is much better represented than other cities.

Here is a guide to visiting all of Beijing’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites:

Great Wall of China

Site Information:

Year Built – 1368–1644
Year designated as UNESCO World Heritage Site – 1987
Reason for designation – Masterpiece because of its size and perfection of construction, perfect example of architecture integrated into landscape, testament to exemplary masonry of Ming period and the civilizations of ancient China, shows advances in defense techniques, incomparable symbolic significance in the history of China
Entry fees – Adults CNY 40; seniors and children CNY 20
Timing –  March 16 to November 15 – 07:30-18:00; November 16 to March 15: 8:00-17:00 (Mutianyu Section)

Site Description:

While there are many sections of the Great Wall of China that are open to visitors, the ones at Badaling and Mutianyu are the most popular with tourists. The Mutianyu section is 3.4 miles long and is one of the best preserved sections of the Great Wall. I visited the Mutianyu section and the entry fees and timings mentioned here are for the same. You can check entry fees and timings for Badaling section of the Great Wall here. In addition to being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Great Wall is also one of the 7 Wonders of the World and China’s most popular engineering and architectural marvel.

Forbidden City

Site Information:

Year Built – 1368-1644
Year designated as UNESCO World Heritage Site – 1987
Reason for designation – masterpieces of imperial palatial architecture in China, testament to significance of Ming and Qing dynasties, evidence of living traditions and customs followed by Manchu people, evidence of evolution of Chinese architecture
Entry fees – CNY 60 (Apr – Oct) and CNY 40 (Nov – Mar)
Timing –  08:30 – 16:00 (Apr – Oct) and 08:30 – 15:30 (Nov – Mar)

Site Description:

Originally built as the Imperial Palace and residence for the emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasty, the Forbidden City got its name because no one could enter it without the Emperor’s express permission. The Palace Complex today is converted into a museum and partially opened to public for viewing. The Forbidden City is an excellent example of Chinese Imperial architecture and has wowed visitors by its magnificence since centuries.

Temple of Heaven

Site Information:

Year Built – First half of 15th century
Year designated as UNESCO World Heritage Site – 1998
Reason for designation – masterpiece of architecture and landscape design, extremely influential on the architecture and planning in East Asia for centuries, explaining role of feudal dynasties in China, evidence of Chinese beliefs about relation between heaven and earth
Entry fees – CNY 34 (Apr – Oct) and CNY 28 (Nov – Mar)
Timing – 08:30 – 17:30 (Apr – Oct) and 08:30 – 17:00 (Nov – Mar)

Site Description:

Temple of Heaven is not a single temple as the name suggests but a vast complex of different temples spread over an area of 2,700,000 square meters. The Temple complex is set in gardens and surrounded by pine woods. Its overall layout symbolizes the ancient Chinese beliefs of harmony and relation between earth and heaven. The Temple of Heaven is the largest of ancient sacrificial buildings in China and also the most well-preserved one.

Summer Palace

Site Information:

Year Built – Constructed in 1750, restored in 1886
Year designated as UNESCO World Heritage Site – 1998
Reason for designation – outstanding expression of Chinese landscape garden design, example of philosophy behind Chinese garden design, represents power and might of the ancient Chinese civilizations
Entry fees – CNY 60 (Nov – Mar) – CNY 50 (Apr – Oct)
Timing –  08:30 – 17:00 (Apr – Oct) and 09:00 – 16:00 (Nov – Mar)

Site Description:

Beijing’s Summer Palace, located 9 miles from downtown, is a beautifully landscaped imperial garden in China. The palace was constructed as a royal garden for the emperors and royal family to rest and enjoy the surroundings. It was later used as the summer residence of the royal family. Its landscape design is extremely beautiful with lakes, temples, palaces, bridges, and stone figures for decorative purposes.

Ming Tombs

Site Information:

Year Built – 1424, the first Tomb to 1644, the 13th Tomb
Year designated as UNESCO World Heritage Site – August 2003
Reason for designation – harmonious integration of architecture with nature to create unique cultural landscape, outstanding testimony to a 500 year old cultural and architectural tradition prevalent in East Asia, masterpieces of human creative genius
Entry fees – CNY 100 (Nov – Mar) – CNY 130 (Apr – Oct) for all 3 tombs
Timing –  Open and close timings for each tomb vary slightly but all are open from 08:30 to 16:30 from November to March and from 08:30 to 17:00 from April to October.

Site Description:

The Ming Tombs are actually a collection of Thirteen Mausoleums built for the emperors of the Ming dynasty. The tombs, located in Northwest Beijing, are laid out and built according to ancient Feng Shui principles and are in great harmony with nature. The tombs are elaborate mausoleums with wide approach ways, courtyards, and palaces. They also have a number of gates, pavilions, ornamental columns, and carved stone figurines for decoration. The Ming Tombs are important as they shed light on the Chinese concepts of union with heaven post death and are crucial to understanding the Chinese culture. Currently three of the thirteen tombs are open to public for viewing.

The Peking Man Site at Zhoukoudian

Site Information:

Year of Discovery – 1921
Year designated as UNESCO World Heritage Site – 1987
Reason for designation – bears witness to prehistoric Asian communities, illustrates human evolution, of significant value to world archaeology and science.
Entry fees – CNY 60
Timing –  08:30 – 16:30 (Apr – Oct) and 09:00 – 16:00 (Nov – Mar)

Site Description:

Zhoukoudian, a cave system in suburban Beijing, has been the site of many significant archaeological discoveries. The most popular among them has been the findings of Homo Erectus or the Peking Man, unearthed in the 1920s. The caves have yielded over 200 fossilized human remains and their discovery has been significant in understanding human evolution. The sites have also yielded stoneware, stone and bone tools and implements, bone needles, ornaments and necklaces, and animal bones. Scientific excavation at Zhoukoudian continues up to this day.

The Grand Canal

Site Information:

Year Built – start of 5th Century BC
Year designated as UNESCO World Heritage Site – 2014
Reason for designation – masterpiece of ancient hydraulic engineering, demonstrates technical capabilities of agriculture based Central Asia, is witness to cultural traditions of canal management, is longest and oldest canal in history
Entry fees – Free
Timing – All day

Site Description:

The Grand Canal is a vast artificial waterway system starting from Beijing and running south to end at the South China Sea. The total length of the Grand Canal is 1776 kms. Construction of the Grand Canal began in early 5th century BC and was the world’s largest civil engineering project at its time. It served as the major transportation and communication system for the Chinese Empire. Relatively unknown and less visited among Beijing’s vast collection of UNESCO Sites, this site is must for travelers who like taking the off beaten path. Travelers to Beijing can visit the Beijing-Hangzhou Section of the Grand Canal and cruise along the waterway to see the traditional buildings built along the canal. The best place in Beijing is the Grand Canal Forest Park; here wooden boats take visitors on a cruise of the Grand Canal.

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