Tian'anmen Square is the heart and soul of the world's most populous country and ranks as the biggest square in the world.
The name of the square comes from the Tiananmen (Gate of Heaven Peace) Gate, which is found on the north side of the square. It originally served as the entry point to the imperial city during the Ming and Qing Dynasties and was constructed in the fifteenth year of Ming Emperor Yong Le (1402-1424). Tiananmen was used by the emperor as the place for issuing royal edicts. It was also used for important celebration activities, such as the ascension of a new emperor, his marriage, important sacrifices or the gate for the royal parents to enter the palace. Before embarking with his army for war it was tradition to hold sacrifices at the gate and pray for victory.
Because of the gate's position at the front of the Imperial City, and historical events that have taken place on Tian'anmen Square, the gate has great political significance. During the 20th Century its importance has frequently been recognized by decorating the square with various portraits or statues of people deemed worthy of special honor.
Two lions stand constantly vigil guarding the entrance to the gate while two more keep watch over the bridges. In Chinese culture, lions are believed to protect humans from evil spirits. The outer Golden Water River is in front of city gate tower and seven jade stone bridges run across it. The widest bridge is in the middle. It is the "Imperial Bridge" used exclusively by the emperor. The actual Tiananmen Square is the largest city-central square in the world. It is 500 meters (1640 feet) wide and 880 meters (2887 feet) long and paved with a light granite slate. The flag-raising ceremony at sunrise and flag-lowering ceremony at sunset are impressive daily rituals. For a panoramic view of the square, ascend to the top of the Tiananmen Gate. It was on this landmark that Chairman Mao proclaimed the establishment of the PRC.
Most days Tiananmen Square is filled with sight-seers and kite-flyers. During national holidays, it's usually festooned with banners and floral decorations. Many people visit at dawn or dusk to see elite People's Liberation Army troops conduct flag raising or lowering ceremonies.