US President Barack Obama visits the Forbidden City in Beijing November 17, 2009.[Xinhua] More photos
Anyone who has visited Beijing's Forbidden City, the historic former home of China's emperors during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, knows even an entire day inside the massive architectural masterpiece is barely enough time to scratch the surface.
And for a president on a tight schedule, a whistle-stop tour of the landmark was always likely to be more of a photo opportunity than a learning experience.
But for United States President Barack Obama, a visit to the world-famous complex was not to be missed, no matter how limited his time.
Obama took a break from his diplomatic mission to Asia yesterday to spend 50 minutes inside the Forbidden City, which is also known as the Palace Museum.
Today, he will carve a little more me-time from his busy four-day agenda in China to visit the Great Wall before he leaves the country for the next leg of his tour in the Republic of Korea.
"It's beautiful. It's a magnificent place to visit. I will come back with my girls and my wife," Obama said before leaving the museum through the northern Gate of Divine Prowess (Shenwu Men).
Fifty minutes earlier, Obama and Forbidden City curator Zheng Xinmiao had entered the palace through the main entrance on the south side - the Meridian Gate (Wu Men). The president had walked along the museum's central axis, which is also the north-south line along which Beijing is orientated.
The Forbidden City was closed to the public for Obama's visit.
In the bright sunshine and cool wind, without the usual hoards of visitors, the palace was a peaceful place. Its golden glazed rooftops still bore a dusting of snow that had fallen several days earlier.
Obama, who was dressed in a brown leather jacket and matching leather shoes spoke warmly about the palace.
"Very good!" he exclaimed in front of the Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihe Dian) while standing before dozens of journalists and photographers. He also posed for photographs in the square in front of the hall.
Inside Taihe Dian, Zheng told Obama about the building's history and its architecture and Obama asked about the words hanging on a board in the middle of the hall.
"Jian Ji Sui You," he was told. It meant "emperors should make good rules".
Taihe Dian was one of the largest wooden structures ever built in China and is the biggest hall in the Forbidden City.
At the Palace of Earthly Tranquility (Kunning Gong), Obama peered through the glass into the rooms that were used on the emperors' wedding night.
"It is truly majestic, and a testimony to the greatness and longevity of Chinese civilization," Obama wrote in the official guest book before leaving the museum.
Obama was the fourth incumbent US president to visit the Forbidden City, following in the footsteps of Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Bill Clinton.
Asked by reporters what he thought of the Forbidden City, Obama flashed his trademark smile.
"Beautiful," he said.
After a slight pause he added, "spectacular".
Xinhua contributed to the story