Historical Places

Heritage Sites

The Cave of Peking Man

500,000 years ago, ancient humans inhabited the limestone caves near the present village of Zhoukoudian, 30 miles southwest of Beijing. The UNESCO world heritage site is a popular tourist destination with many tours available from Beijing. There are four cave sites, the largest being the cave at Site 1 (153 yards long and 44 yards high) which was the dwelling place for a whole community. The remains of over 40 individuals have been discovered there. Tourists can visit the caves inhabited by Peking Man and Hilltop Caveman and tour the museum which has extensive exhibits of fossils, tools and displays depicting the life of these early humans.

The Ming Tombs

(2000 year old terracotta warriors. Near Xian in Shaanxi Province.) 2000 year old terracotta warriors.
Near Xian in Shaanxi Province.

13 emperors from the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644) were interred in magnificent mausoleums at the imperial burial site, 30 miles northwest of Beijing. The site, 15 square miles, on the slopes of Mount Taishou was chosen by the Emperor Yongle (Zhu Di) (1402 – 1424) who also ordered the creation of the Forbidden City. Two tombs are open to the public: Changling (the oldest tomb on the site and resting place of Emperor Zhu Di and his empresses) and Dingling (the burial site of Emperor Wanli and his empresses, which is the most recent tomb and the only one excavated). The entrance to the Ming Tombs is along the 4 mile Spirit Way which is lined with the statues of guardian animals and marked by the massive Dragon and Phoenix arched gate.

Marco Polo Bridge

The Lugou Qiao (Lugou Bridge) gained its nickname the Marco Polo Bridge from its favorable mention in Polo’s diary: “a bridge so fine, it has few equals in the world”. The impressive eleven arch, granite bridge has 485 carved stone lions, with no two exactly alike. It has spanned the swiftly flowing Lugou River for 800 years. The bridge commands a strategic position 9 miles southwest of Beijing on the route south from the city and was the site of a famous battle between the National Revolutionary Army of the Republic of China and the Imperial Japanese Army which marked the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937 – 1945).

The Garden of Perfection and Light

Yuanming Yuan, the Garden of Perfection and Light, is the site of the Old Summer Palace which is 550 yards from the New Summer Palace. Originally designed in 1709 under the orders of Emperor Qianlong, the 864 acre imperial gardens were a blend of classical Chinese gardens and European palace architecture and at their glory were known as the “Versailles of the East”. In 1860 British and French troops destroyed and burned the buildings. Some were restored by the imperial family but were again damaged in 1980. The beautiful ruins are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Drum Tower and the Bell Tower

(Temple of Heaven) Temple of Heaven (Tian Tan).

During the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties a bell was rung in the morning and a drum was beaten in the evening to let the common people know the time. The drum tower and bell tower in Dongcheng District were originally constructed in 1272 and twice rebuilt after fires. Tourists can climb the towers to see the largest bell in China at 63 tons, the huge drum and admire the city views. The drum is beaten 108 times for good luck at New Year. Today the area around the bell and drum towers is used for Chinese cultural events such as dragon and lion dances.

Temple of Heaven

Tian Tan, the magnificent Temple of Heaven where prayers were offered for good harvests, was designed during the reign of Emperor Yongle (Zhu Di) to be even larger than the Forbidden City. As the “Son of Heaven” the emperor’s palace needed to be smaller than the temple. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the temple complex, located in Xuanwu District in southeastern Beijing, was restored in time for the 2006 Olympic Summer Games. Popular tourist destinations in the complex are the Vermillion Steps Bridge connecting the buildings and the three Echo Stones and the Echo Wall which use ingenious design to create remarkable effects with sound waves.