China has witnessed several millennia of fascinating, turbulent history, from the imperial era through to the days of the Communist Party. And the relics of these eras have been preserved and restored at various sites, palaces and museums across the country.
For those keen to learn more about dynastic China, take a trip to the Terracotta Army in Xian or the Ming Tombs near Beijing. The Museum of the First National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, on the other hand, is an excellent opportunity to learn about China’s modern history.
Here are 10 unmissable historic sites to visit in China.
The Great Wall of China is an iconic structure and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Constituted from several different defensive walls, it was during the reign of the first Emperor Qin Shi Huang in 221 BC that the Great Wall of China was amalgamated into the single structure we know today.
At its peak, the Great Wall of China stretched for approximately 5,500 miles from Shanhaiguan in east China to Lop Nur in the west. Today, the Great Wall is the country’s most famous tourist attraction.
The Terracotta Army, part of the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor, is one of the world’s most famous, intriguing and visually arresting ancient sites, dating back to the 3rd century BC.
A chance find in Xian in 1974, the Terracotta Army is a collection of around 7,000 life sized clay sculptures of soldiers, infantry, carts and horses in battle formation, each created with its own individual features.
The Forbidden City, also known as the Imperial Palace or the Palace Museum, is a fifteenth century palace complex in Beijing.
Sprawled over a staggering 720,000 square meters and very well-preserved, The Forbidden City is one of the most popular tourist destinations in China and is on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites.
The Ming Tombs were established by the third Ming emperor, Yongle, in the fifteenth century and house the mausoleums of 13 emperors of the Ming Dynasty.
Three of the Ming Tombs are open to the public. Emperor Yongle’s tomb, known as Chang Ling, is perhaps the most remarkable of the three, with its ornate interiors and impressive architecture. However, it is the Ding Ling tomb which is the only one to have been excavated and the only Ming Tomb in which visitors can enter the underground vault.
The Museum of the First National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party is the site where Mao Ze Dong and a further eleven members of various communist groups from around China met for the first time as the National Communist Party.
The meeting took place on 23 July 1921 and marked the birth of the party. Today, the Museum of the First National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party allows visitors to see the meeting place, with a reconstruction of the event.
The Mùtiányù section of the Great Wall of China dates back to the Qin Dynasty, although it was renovated during the Ming era.
The added distance to Mùtiányù from Beijing makes it a less crowded experience than Bādálǐng. There is a cable car taking visitors onto the wall, or visitors can take the stairs.
The Temple of Heaven in Tiantan Park in Beijing was originally built by Ming Dynasty Emperor Yongle in 1420 as a place of worship for Chinese emperors. However, it was only during the reign of the Jiajing Emperor that the site was named The Temple of Heaven as well as being extended and renovated.
Constructed in accordance with Chinese religious principles, The Temple of Heaven is characterised by square buildings with round roofs, the square aspects representing the earth and the circular ones representing heaven. The Temple of Heaven represents is the oldest holy temple in Beijing.
The Huánghuā section of the Great Wall of China is far less visited than its counterparts in Mùtiányù and Bādálǐng. The Huánghuā section was built under the remit of Lord Cai during the Ming Dynasty. He went to extraordinary lengths to build each part of this section. Unfortunately for Cai, the Ministry of War decried it as an extravagance and he was duly beheaded.
This is not an officially open part of the Great Wall and the Chinese government have on occasion prevented people from going there, even issuing fines for visiting it.
Beihai Park is an imperial garden and palace in Beijing, China established during the Liao Dynasty in the first century AD. Beihai Park has undergone significant changes and renovations, with each imperial dynasty making its mark on the gardens.
Spanning more than 69 hectares, Beihai Park contains numerous historical structures and was considered at one time to be the “nucleus” of Beijing. The most famous aspects of Beihai Park are Qionghua Island with its iconic white 17th century dagoba, Tuancheng Island, and the north bank containing the Five-Dragon Pavilions.
Jingshan Park in Beijing began as an imperial garden during the Ming dynasty. Jingshan Park has often been called “Coal Hill” due to the fact that it is an artificial mound made up of soil extracted during construction of the Forbidden Palace moat.
Visitors to Jingshan Park can see numerous historic structures including the holy Hope Tower or “xiwanglou”, the coffins of the members of the Qing Dynasty at the Visiting Virtue Hall or “Guandedian”, and the site where the final emperor of the Ming Dynasty, Chongzhen, committed suicide.