Beijing's overwhelmed Forbidden City to limit visitors

BEIJING Wed Mar 26, 2014 11:45am EDT

Security guards set up a fence in front of the portrait of China's late leader Mao Zedong at the main entrance of the Forbidden City near the Great Hall of the People where the National People's Congress (NPC) is taking place in Beijing March 6, 2014. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Security guards set up a fence in front of the portrait of China's late leader Mao Zedong at the main entrance of the Forbidden City near the Great Hall of the People where the National People's Congress (NPC) is taking place in Beijing March 6, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon

BEIJING (Reuters) - Forbidden City, the former imperial palace in the heart of Beijing, will begin limiting how many tourists it admits, amid worries that its popularity is damaging the site, state media said on Wednesday.

The plans include not letting annual ticket holders visit during peak seasons, promoting afternoon visits at the height of the steamy summer in July and August, and selling tickets online during national holidays, the news agency Xinhua reported.

Built in the early 17th century, the Forbidden City and its fabled 9,999 rooms cover 74 hectares (183 acres) surrounded by a moat to the north of Tiananmen Square. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.

Visitors posed no threat to the site for most of its history. Commoners or foreigners could not enter without permission, on penalty of death.

Today, Chinese media frequently report on the damage caused by tourists who sweep through on national holidays. During the National Day break in 2010, more than 122,000 people visited on a single day, although its theoretical capacity is 60,000 a day. More than 14 million people visit annually, Xinhua said.

Museum curator Shan Jixiang said the Forbidden City has been looking for ways to control the number of visitors, Xinhua said. Authorities have already banned the sale of snacks in parts of the site, and this year the museum is being closed every Monday to carry out repairs and renovations, the report said.

The site is formally known as the Palace Museum, but most of the treasures from China's imperial heyday are kept in Taiwan's National Palace Museum. They were taken there when defeated Nationalist forces fled to the island at the end of China's civil war in 1949.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Larry King)

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