Known to most Westerners as the tragic scene of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, this 440,000sqm public square is one of the largest in the world and an impressive, if not slightly oppressive, sight. The vast, flat paved mall is located in the centre of Beijing and can hold a whopping one million people.
Named after Tiananmen Gate (Gate of Heavenly Peace) - the entrance to the Forbidden City, the square was originally built in 1651. Tiananmen Square has since quadrupled in size with most expansion during 1958 to 1959 under Chairman Mao Zedong with the aim to make the area the largest square in the world. The immense, flat layout of the square is flanked by Tiananmen Gate to the north and the Front Gate (Qianmen) to the south. To the west is the Great Hall of the People and on the east, the National Museum of China. Within its centre, there are no trees or benches with the only structures being the 38m-high Monument to the People's Hero and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong. It's not exactly the place to hang out but rather to stroll around and marvel at the sheer expanse. At night,Tiananmen Square is illuminated by lamp posts and quite breathtaking.
Tiananmen Square has great cultural significance as the site of many important events in Chinese history such as the May Fourth Movement in 1919, the proclamation of the People's Republic of China by Mao in 1949 and the protests of 1976 and 1989. During the Cultural Revolution, the Chairmen reviewed parades of up to one million people. Nowadays, traffic stops twice daily to allow a troop of People's Liberation Army soldiers to march from Tiananmen Gate to perform the flag-raising ceremony at sunrise and the reverse at sunset. At all other times, Tiananmen Square is teeming with locals, tourists and uniformed and undercover police.
Entry to Tiananmen Square is free, although some of the surrounding buildings and sights charge an entrance fee. To get to Tiananmen Square, the closest metro station is Tiananmen East. From here, it's a four-minute walk down West Chang-an Jie.