Characterised by a giant framed portrait of Mao Zedong, and guarded by two pairs of Ming stone lions, the double-eaved Gate of Heavenly Peace, north of Tiān’ānmén Sq, is a potent national symbol. Built in the 15th century and restored in the 17th century, the gate was formerly the largest of the four gates of the Imperial City Wall, and it was from here that Mao proclaimed the People’s Republic of China on 1 October 1949. Today’s political coterie watches mass troop parades from here.
Climb the gate for excellent views of the square, and peek inside at the impressive beams and overdone paintwork; in all there are 60 gargantuan wooden pillars and 17 vast lamps suspended from the ceiling. Within the gate tower there is also a fascinating photographic history of the gate and Tiān’ānmén Sq (sadly the captions are Chinese only), and footage of military parades.
There’s no fee for walking through the gate, en route to the Forbidden City, but if you climb it, you’ll have to pay. The ticket office is on the northeast side of the gate; here you'll need to stow all bags before entering. For Forbidden City tickets, keep walking about 600m further north.