One of the largest public squares in the world
In Beijing's centre, the massive 440,000 square metre Tiananmen Square is one of the largest, if not the largest, public squares in the world and can hold a whopping one million people. Known to most Westerners as the site of the tragic Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, it's an impressive, if ever-so slightly oppressive, sight.
The vast, paved mall is characterised by its sheer expanse. There are no park benches or trees within its confines with the only structures being the 38 metre-high Monument to the People's Hero and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong. This lack of amenities means it's not really the place to hang out, but nevertheless there's a daily throng of locals, tourists and uniformed and undercover police teeming all over the area.
Tiananmen Square is named after Tiananmen Gate (Gate of Heavenly Peace), which is the entrance to the Forbidden City, and was originally laid out in 1651. Mao Zedong expanded the site dramatically from 1958 to 1959 with the view to making Tiananmen Square the biggest in the world. During the Cultural Revolution, the Chairman would review parades of up to one million soldiers in step. The site also has great cultural significance with many notable historic events occurring there such as the May Fourth Movement in 1919, Mao's proclamation of the People's Republic of China in 1949, and the protests of 1976 and 1989.
As well as being the gateway to the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square is flanked by important buildings including the Great Hall of the People, National Museum of China, and the Front Gate (Qianmen). Traffic stops twice daily for People's Liberation soldiers to march from Tiananmen Gate to perform the flag-raising ceremony at sunrise and the reverse at sunset. To get here, the closest metro station is Tiananmen East.