Virtual tours bring China’s ancient relics alive

For tourists heading to the Chinese capital of Beijing, it is a must-see attraction. But the Palace Museum - set inside the sprawling surrounds of Beijing's Forbidden City - is so vast that many visitors simply scout around sights such as the Emperor's Bedroom and then head off to another destination.

The museum has proved itself wise to the ways of the modern world too, however, by setting itself up online and joining a growing global trend that has seen the world's major museums go 'virtual.'

Originally set up with the help of the IBM corporation in 2008, the "Virtual Forbidden City'' ( http://www.beyondspaceandtime.org) has undergone a makeover recently and the museum's management are delighted with the results.

The site is closing in on half a million registered visitors - and says countless more have cruised through such virtual attractions as "dinner with a Qing dynasty emperor'' and games that help teach a basic knowledge about ancient Chinese history.

"The project gave visitors richer and easier access to the Imperial City and the ancient building complex with as many as 8,707 rooms and 1.5 million articles of art,'' the head of the museum's information department, Hu Chui, told the China Daily newspaper.

Beijing's Forbidden City was the home of China's rulers from the Ming to the Qing dynasties (around 1420 to the early 1900s). It is the world's largest surviving imperial palace complex and was in 1987 listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.  

A number of the top museums around the world are now offering virtual tours. Here's a selection of the best:

 1) Palace Museum (Beijing): http://www.beyondspaceandtime.org  

 2) The Smithsonian (Washington): http://www.si.edu

 3) Museo Galileo (Florence): http://www.museogalileo.it/en

 4) Natural History Museum (London): http://www.nhm.ac.uk

 5) The Andy Warhol Museum (Pittsburgh): http://www.warhol.org

 MS

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