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Beijing (northeast) became China’s capital in 1421 and the venerated Chinese history has strewn the land of Beijing with sites of cultural and historical interests. Some of these sites, such as the Great Wall, Former Imperial Palace, Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace, and the ruins of Peking Man at Zhoukoudian are UNESCO-endorsed world cultural heritage sites. A lot of imperial palaces, mansions, gardens and tombs are built in classical Chinese architecture style.
Although the area southwest of the city was inhabited by cave dwellers some 500,000 years ago, the earliest records of settlements in Beijing date from around 1000 BC. It developed as a frontier trading town for the Mongols, Koreans and tribes from Shandong and Central China. From 1215 AD, the year that Genghis Khan set fire to Yanjing (former name of Beijing), the real history of the city starts. From the ashes emerged Dadu (Great Capital), alias Khanbaliq, the Khan’s town. By 1279 Genghis Khan’s grandson Kublai had made himself ruler of most of Asia, and Khanbaliq was his capital.
Today, with a total area of 16,800 sq km, Beijing is roughly the size of Belgium. It looks like a large grid, with the Forbidden City at its center. The Forbidden City (zijin cheng) is called so because it was off limits of commoners for 500 years. It is the largest and best preserved cluster of ancient buildings in China.