See The Amazing Transformation Of Beijing's Ancient Landmarks

China, Beijing

Photo: Yepoka Yeebo / Business Insider

Beijing’s leaders have infamously demolished anything that gets in the way of progress, from entire communities to beloved old temples. But the city’s ancient heart has largely been preserved.Developers can’t build anything that overshadows ancient or important structures like the Imperial Palace or the Great Hall Of The People, and photos from the last century show few major changes.

But even here, signs of China’s headlong charge toward modernity abound.

Newly prosperous tourists from the heartland flood Tiananmen Square. There’s a construction boom in China’s ancient neighborhoods. Centuries-old Buddhist temples rent prime real estate to stores and cafes, and just over the horizon, loom the gleaming towers of the city’s financial centre.

Today, Tiananmen Square is a popular destination for tourists. In the distance, a portrait of Mao Zedong, founder of the People's Republic of China, hangs in front of the Imperial Palace.

Most of the tourists in Tiananmen Square are from other parts of China, there were huge tour groups milling around and posing for pictures. The festive atmosphere was at odds with the square's infamous history.

Tiananmen Square has always been a symbolic centre of power, a site for displays of military might, and repression. Here, Mao Zedong leads a parade in October 1966.

The square's impressive proportions, the ubiquitous soldiers and the signs of constant surveillance make it feel like little has changed.

A lone soldier standing guard in an underpass that connects Tiananmen Square with the Forbidden City.

Party grandeur was on on full display in Tiananmen Square.

As were thousands of tourists wielding smart phones.

Sombre landmarks, like this building seen here in 1979, are now packed full of tourists.

The giant screens with scrolling slogans and pictures made it clear that Tiananmen Square was still a state showpiece.

It feels like little has changed in this ancient crooked alleyway near Beijing's Back Lakes. But every building has recently been meticulously restored.

The modest buildings in Beijing's ancient Hutong neighborhoods were not exempt from the city's real estate and construction boom.

Construction continues, right through the night.

1966: note the wide streets and lack of traffic in this image of one of Beijing's older neighborhoods.

The architecture's largely stayed the same, but now, the streets are clogged with traffic and the landscape is dotted with construction sites. Elsewhere in Beijing, older neighborhoods like this were completely leveled.

Today, tens of thousands of tourists flood the Imperial Palace inside the Forbidden City.

Thousands of tourists stream out of the ancient complex.

Compared with the small groups of visitors touring the Forbidden City in this 1979 photo.

The stunning complex feels like the Disney Land of ancient palaces. Under this ornate paint job, concrete pillars masquerade as ancient gates...

The golden-yellow tiled roof of a palace in the Forbidden City.

In a quiet courtyard around the corner from the sea of tourists, a boy runs through the old, twisted trees.

A devotee lights a handful of incense sticks in front of Beijing's legendary Lamastry.

A spinning prayer wheel in the Lamastry. Despite very vocal opposition, ancient temples around the city have been repeatedly demolished.

Gǔlóu, Beijing's Drum Tower, glimpsed from the Forbidden City. The drums helped city administrators tell time until the late 1920s.

The tower in 1979. Now, the once wide, empty streets are clogged with traffic.

But the towers have been carefully preserved.

Here, the painted beams inside the drum tower.

The tower is a museum of time pieces. The drums were used to announce different times of day.

Millions of tourists flock to the museum every year.

Now see how change has come to another Chinese city.

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