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Forbidden City



The Forbidden City in Beijing was constructed for the Emperor of China in 1406 and is the world's largest palace complex.  Consisting of 980 buildings it housed as many as 9,000 people and was the centre of Chinese Imperial Power from 1420 until 1924. Today it is the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world.


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 (3,200 by 2,500 ft) 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. 



It was called Meridian Gate because it was believed that the Meridian line went right through the Forbidden City and the imperial residence was the centre of the cosmos. When a general returned from a battle, his captives would be "offered" to the emperor in a ceremony outside this gate. Also Court Beatings, which was a penalty used to punish offending officials took place in the courtyard in front of the gate. 

This is approached from Tiananmen Square.



Inside the walls, the Forbidden City is divided into two parts. The Outer Court and the Inner Court.  The Outer Court or Front Court,  which includes the southern sections, was used for ceremonial purposes. 



The courtyard, between the Gate and the Hall of Supreme Harmony, is the largest in the Forbidden City and complements the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the largest structure in the city. Ceremonies held at the Hall, used this courtyard because it holds thousands of people. No trees were allowed from a security point of view and to ensure that no one could tunnel under the square the paving was constructed of 15 layers of tiles.

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. These were carved at the quarry 47 miles away and transported by sprinkling water over the ground in winter to form a frozen surface which they could then drag the stone over.


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.



The Hall of Supreme Harmony is the most important building in the Forbidden City. 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. Built on three levels on a marble stone base it rises 30 meters above the level of the surrounding square. The original hall was built by the Ming Dynasty in 1406 and has been destroyed 5 times by fires the last time it was rebuilt was in 1695.  It contains 55 rooms which cover a floor area of 2,377 square meters. During the Ming and Qing Dynasties, because of its symbol of imperial power, no building in Beijing was allowed to be higher than it.

The building is nine bays wide and five bays deep and has a double-layered roof which represents the highest construction rank in the empire and thus is exclusively for the emperor. 

Roofs are curved to ward off evil spirits.


At the edge are mythological creatures, the more creatures denote the greater importance of the building.


The Emperor's throne was placed on a two-metre-high white jade dais in the centre which was adorned with gilt and engraved with patterns of clouds and dragons. 



It was surrounded by 6 large golden pillars, engraved with dragons representing the supreme power of the Emperor. Around the throne stand two bronze cranes, an elephant-shaped incense burner and mythical beasts.  Behind the throne was a carved gilt screen and, on either side, there are incense burners in the shape of the mythical unicorn signifying the obedience of all other kingdoms. 

Incense burners can be seen throughout the city. Something else that can be seen throughout the city are water containers as fire has been a major problem throughout its history resulting in major damage and numerous rebuildings. 


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. 



Both of these halls also contain an imperial throne.





Separated from the Outer Court by an oblong courtyard, is the Inner or Back Court and includes the northern sections. 

This was the residence of the Emperor and his family and was used for the day-to-day affairs of the state. 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 Hall of Union, the Palace of Earthly Tranquillity and the Palace of Heavenly Purity and its beautifully intricate ceiling. 





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.



Moving on from the palaces is the Imperial Garden. Although relatively small and compact in design, the garden nevertheless contains several interesting landscaping features. Built in 1417 during the Ming dynasty. It covers an area of about 12,000 square metres and was the private garden of the imperial family. It is a typical imperial Chinese garden and contains more than 20 different buildings in different styles Chinese gardens are made up of four things, Rocks and Architecture: pavilions, terraces, towers and rockeries. You can also see a pavilion built on top of a man-made hill of rocks, rocks being one of the requirements of a Chinese garden the others being Flowers and Plants, Water, and Architecture.



At the end of the garden is the North Gate which is the Gate of Divine Might although this was originally named The Black Tortoise Gate. This leads out of the city and to the bottom of the manmade hill which was constructed partly from the demolished rubble of Kublai Khans palace which used to stand on the spot. The Forbidden City was set out according to the laws of Feng Shui which requires a hill to the north and water to the south.


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.


Panorama Available at airpano.com

Additional information can be found on Encyclopaedia Britannica 


              All  Photographs were taken by and are copyright of Ron Gatepain

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