If there’s something I love about software and the Internet, it’s the ability to achieve certain things that otherwise would be really difficult to accomplish. From traveling around the world with Google Maps to finding your friends from childhood in Facebook, it seems that these days a computer is enough to make any dream come true… even if that dream is visiting the fabulous Forbidden City in China.
IBM and the Palace Museum in Beijing have joined forces to create an incredibly faithful virtual recreation of the Forbidden City, the massive imperial palace from the Ming dynasty. The Virtual Forbidden City is a 200-MB file that provides you with a immersive experience while walking the vast squares and magnificent buildings of this mysterious complex, a World Heritage Site since 1987.
After installing the application on your PC or Mac, you can start your trip right away. You have the option to create a user account for free – which enables you to use certain advanced tools inside the program – but you may as well take the tour as a guest. In either case you’ll need to be patient, as Virtual Forbidden City takes a while to launch.
While visiting the imperial complex, you can freely walk around and explore the site by yourself, or follow any of the dozens of tour guides scattered all over the place. They’ll be delighted to show you around the most important spots in the Forbidden City while explaining part of the incredible story of this magic place.
Moving the area is easy: simply press the arrow keys to make your character walk and use the mouse to zoom in and out and also look around you. The trip is complemented by typically Chinese background music, but if you get tired of it you can turn it off in the program’s options (Ctrl+O).
Virtual Forbidden City also includes a chat utility for talking to other virtual tourists, as well as screen capturing and scrapbooking tools, which you can use to keep memories of your trip – the last two being reserved only for registered users. The detailed map enables you to jump straight away to certain spots inside the complex and also take part in activities, though I must say I wasn’t able to join any of them.