At the southern end of Tiananmen Square, away from the Forbidden City, is a seemingly very out of place gate with another one, equally out of place looking, less than hundred metres behind it.
To understand the placement of these two edifices which where, in fact, part of the same structure you need to appreciate that what we know as the Forbidden City/ Palace Museum today was previously part of a much larger Imperial City which was, itself, surrounded by an Inner City. Around this Inner City was a wall which had nine gates, one of which was Zhengyangmen. The Inner City wall, stretching out from either side of the gate was 24 km long and 15 meters high, with a thickness of 20 metres at ground level and 12 metres at the top. Walking through the gate you really do appreciate what a 20 metre thick wall feels like.
The wall, with the exception of a small section near Beijing Railway Station, was demolished in 1965 to allow construction of the 2nd Ring Road and Line 2 of the Beijing Subway.
Outside Zhengyangmen was the Outer City in which was to be found the Temple of Heaven complex which included the Temple of Agriculture and the Temple of Heaven.
The layout of the central area of Beijing, as it looked around the late 1400s is as depicted below. This may assist with understanding the above.
From the above picture you can see that Zhengyangmen lies on a North-South axis running from the Bell Tower, through the Drum Tower, Di’agmen, the Forbidden City, Tiananmen, Daqingmen, and the Temple of Heaven complex to Yongdingmen. This makes me wonder if Walter Burley Griffin had Imperial Beijing in mind when he planned Canberra, the capital of Australia and my home town.
Zhengyangmen was built between 1421 and 1439 and comprised two towers, the gatehouse (this review) and a watchtower (separate review). The two towers were originally joined together to create an inner walled courtyard/ barbican – more on this in my watchtower review.
Zhengyangmen (The Gate of Straight Positivity) gatehouse (built 1421) was the front gate (Qianmen) of the Inner City during most of the Ming (1368-1644) and all of the Qing (1644-1911) periods. It was the exit the emperor took when he went to Tiantan (The Temple of Heaven), in the outer city, to make offerings. In fact, this gate was the for exclusive use of the Emperor.
Today, its beautifully restored triple-eaved Xieshanding style tower, with green glazed tiles is a sight to behold.
The gate is a rather massive 43 meters high (with the tower, itself, 36.7-meter wide, 16.5-meter deep and 27.3-meter high). It is the tallest of Beijing’s gates.
Post the Communist victory in 1949 and until 1980 the gatehouse hosted the Beijing garrison of the People’s Liberation Army. Nowadays it hosts a museum on the history of Old Beijing which includes amongst its exhibits, a model of the city during Qing times. Unfortunately, I have not had the chance to visit the museum yet, maybe next time.
China’s zero point, the point in Beijing from which all distances by road in China are measured, is located just outside (southside) Zhengyangmen and is the subject of a separate review on this blog. Do have a look at this before moving on.
This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries based on a number of trips to Beijing. I suggest you continue with my next entry – Zhengyangmen (Zhengyang Gate) – Watchtower – or to start the loop at the beginning go to my Beijing Introduction.