Beijing’s Tiananmen Square at the one-year countdown celebration.

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Beijing's Attractions

Although Olympic guests will surely spend much of their time checking out Beijing's newest sights and watching events, no visit should go without a trip to Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, the Temple of Heaven and the Great Wall of China.

Tiananmen Square is Beijing's center. Built in 1417 during the Ming Dynasty, Tiananmen Square abuts the Forbidden City. Mao Zedong transformed the square in the 20th century, building the Monument to the People's Heroes at its center. The Chairman himself lies in a crystal coffin in the Mao Zedong Memorial Hall. Westerners became familiar with Tiananmen Square in 1989 after a pro-democracy demonstration turned violent. As the protesting got out of control, Communist Party leaders put Beijing under martial law. The police and troops killed several hundred unarmed protesters in the streets surrounding the square.

Tiananmen Square's Gate of Heavenly Peace leads to the Forbidden City, home of emperors. The 800-building complex housed Chinese emperors for 500 years. Common people were not allowed into the city, and the royal family rarely ventured outside of its walls. Today, visitors can see the Dragon Throne, the imperial residences and the meandering Imperial Garden. Just outside Beijing lies another beautiful example of Chinese landscape design. The Summer Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, consists of a labyrinthine garden studded with pavilions, temples, palaces and bridges.

The Temple of Heaven sprawls over even more space than the Forbidden City. Its grandeur was meant to show the emperors' humility in their offering to heaven. The site includes the Circular Mound Altar, the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest and the Imperial Vault of Heaven, which has an echo wall. The Vermillion Steps Bridge or Sacred Way connects some buildings. Emperors once believed that they could pass over the bridge into heaven.

And, of course, most tourists stop by Beijing's section of the Great Wall of China, which once extended 4,000 miles across the country. The wall runs along the northern part of the city.

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