Situated in the heart of Beijing, the Forbidden City is the world's largest palace complex. It has lavishly decorated ceremonial halls and royal palaces that impress even by today’s standards.
Construction took place between 1406 and 1420 by the Yongle Emperor, when he moved the capital back to Beijing from Nanjing and made the Forbidden City the seat of the Ming Dynasty. In 1644 the Ming Dynasty was overthrown to be replaced by the Qing Dynasty which ruled until the Emperor PuYi was removed in 1912, although he was to remain in the city as a virtual prisoner until his expulsion in 1924. In 1925, the Forbidden City was converted to the Palace Museum, containing a collection of artwork and artefacts from the imperial collections of the Ming and Qing dynasties. Twenty four emperors ruled China from inside the palace, seldom venturing outside. At its height, as many as 9,000 people lived there including the royal family, concubines, servants and eunuchs, purely for the convenience of the Emperor.
Measuring 960 by 750 metres in size, (the equivalent to over 20 football fields) the Forbidden City consists of 980 surviving buildings with 8,707 rooms: It is believed that this number was once 9,999. The City is surrounded by a six-metre deep, 52 metres wide moat and a 7.9 metres high wall, which is 8.62 metres wide at the base. At each of the four corners of the wall are towers with intricate roofs. Each side of the city wall has a gate; the most famous is the main Meridian Gate at the south. Inside the walls the Forbidden City is divided into two parts. The Outer Court or Front Court, which includes the southern sections, was used for ceremonial purposes. The Inner Court or Back Court includes the northern sections, and was the residence of the Emperor and his family; this was used for the day-to-day affairs of state.
The most important buildings are situated on the central north-south axis. These include the Gate of Supreme Harmony which leads to the main square. A three-tiered white marble terrace rising from the square has two elaborate ceremonial ramps containing bas-relief carvings. The northern ramp is carved from a single piece of stone weighing around 200 tonnes. The southern ramp is made from two stone slabs joined together. Three halls stand on top of the terrace. These are the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the Hall of Central Harmony, and the Hall of Preserving Harmony. The largest and most important is the Hall of Supreme Harmony which rises 30 metres above the level of the surrounding square and is the largest surviving wooden structure in China. In the Ming Dynasty, the Emperor held court here, although during the Qing Dynasty it was only used for ceremonial purposes, such as coronations, investitures, and imperial weddings. Behind the Hall of Supreme Harmony is the Hall of Central Harmony, a smaller, square hall, used by the Emperor to prepare and rest before and during ceremonies. Behind this is the Hall of Preserving Harmony, which was used for rehearsing ceremonies. All three halls contain an imperial throne; the largest and most elaborate one is in the Hall of Supreme Harmony.
Separated from the Outer Court by an oblong courtyard, is the Inner Court, this was the home of the Emperor and his family. In the Qing Dynasty, the Emperor lived and worked in the Inner Court, with the Outer Court used only for ceremonial purposes. At the centre of the Inner Court are three halls. These are the Palace of Heavenly Purity, Hall of Union, and the Palace of Earthly Tranquillity. Smaller than the Outer Court halls, the three halls of the Inner Court were the official residences of the Emperor and the Empress. Behind the Inner Court lies the small Imperial Garden which contains a number of elaborate landscaping features. This then leads to the north gate of the palace, the Gate of Divine Might. To the east and west of the three main halls are a series of self-contained courtyards and minor palaces. It is here that the Emperor's concubines and children lived and which are now used to display the artefacts and treasures.
The Forbidden City was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987 due to its significant place in the development of Chinese architecture and culture and is listed by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world.
To see more photographs and take a virtual tour of the site click on the photoshow below.