The Forbidden City is one of the world’s most impressive ancient sights, located in China’s capital city Beijing. Commissioned by the notorious Emperor Yongle in 1406 and completed 14 years later, the Forbidden City was the Imperial Palace and home of the imperial family and their entourage. Made up of thousands of buildings, the sprawling complex is recognised as one of the biggest palaces ever built.
But how big is the Forbidden City? It’s a complex question and the answer isn’t so straightforward. At first glance it’s easy to assume that the Forbidden City is much larger than it actually is. It has always had the reputation of being one of the largest palace complexes ever built. In truth however, the total area of the Forbidden City is a surprisingly modest 720,000 square meters. This is equivalent to 178 acres.
Within the 780 buildings that make up the Forbidden City complex are 8,886 bays of rooms, with ninety-nine courtyards. Its structure has remained largely unchanged since it was first built more than 600 years ago, in spite of the Imperial Palace witnessing the fall of one dynasty, and the rise of the next.
The sheer size of the Forbidden City means it’s hard to take it all in, without having made several visits. It gives the impression of being larger than it actually is, because it’s made up of several individual structures, each with its own distinct function. One of its most impressive features is its 65-foot-tall, 9.5-mile-long wall, which encircles the palace.
The overall environment of the Forbidden City is spectacular. Its royal parkland, surrounded by a double moat and fortress walls, contains more than 8,000 trees, and out of these, more than 500 are rare hundred-year-old pines and cypresses.
Except for the Ming dynasty, which lasted 276 years until the revolution of 1911, thirty other dynasties and one republic lived within the premises of the Forbidden City. It was initially off-limits to commoners and was used as a home to many of the most powerful emperors. The complex also became a symbol of the power of the emperor and a focal point for worshipping heaven and earth.
The Forbidden City remains incredibly popular with tourists from all over the world. Since its opening to the public in 1925, it has entertained more than 180 million visitors. A remarkable 14 million people came to visit the site in 2018 alone, making it one of the world’s most visited tourist attractions.
Size of Structures in the Forbidden City
The Forbidden City has been built on a grand scale and the structures that reside within the complex are all very large. The Gate of Heavenly Peace, which is the entrance of the Forbidden City, is impressively tall at 57 metres and the view from the gate is remarkable. The view is overlooked by five pavilions, each of which carries a unique name.
The central hall, where the emperors held banquets and conducted court sessions, is of particularly grand scale. It is just shy of 60 metres in length and almost 35 metres wide, with a huge throne standing majestically at the northern end of the hall. The tallest structure in the Forbidden City is the Hall of Supreme Harmony, measuring an impressive 33 metres in height. The roof of the hall is supported by 8,350 tonnes of marble and 72 carved stone pillars.
The amount of intricate detail in the Forbidden City complex as a whole is also staggering, as each individual structure features some form of calligraphy or art. Rare historical artefacts can also be found throughout the complex and the numerous murals and antiques, paintings, porcelain and jade pieces on display are a testament to the industry of its builders.
The Forbidden City is known to have one of the largest collections of ancient Chinese artworks in the world, with around 1 million artefacts in its storage. This has made it an important architectural and cultural landmark, now listed as a UNESCO world heritage site.
The Forbidden City Over Time
Though the Forbidden City has largely kept the same overall layout since its first completion in 1420, certain aspects of the complex have changed through the years. Buildings, gates and ramps that have declined over time have been reconstructed or repaired. After a devastating fire in 1720, the original wooden ceiling of one of the halls was replaced with a completely new one. In 1900 a banner with the words “Down with Imperialism”(尊皇宪政) was hung above the Gate of Heavenly Peace, demonstrating the resistance of the Qing Empire.
After the Revolution of 1911, the Forbidden City was turned into a public park. The Forbidden City gradually deteriorates until Zhu Shouqian, Minister of the Ministry of Works, was appointed as the palace’s chief restorer. More than 1,000 workers and craftsmen were hired to restore the palace in accordance with the original style and a successful restoration was done in 1933. This restoration process involved the reconstruction of gates, pavilions and walls, as well as the rebuilding of 394 courtyards and about 900,000 square metres of palace walls and foundations.
The Forbidden City is now maintained by the Palace Museum, which was established as part of a vaster collection of Chinese art and artefacts, managed by the Chinese National Museum. Restoring and maintaining the palace have been increasingly challenging in recent years, and a number of measures have been taken to preserve the complex, such as the use of gold-colored paint for the roof tiles and the installation of air conditioners to cool the palace inside.
Recent Developments in the Forbidden City
The Palace Museum is now evaluated as one of the world’s greatest art museums and, as such, its popularity among tourists has increased significantly. Recent developments of digital technology have also allowed visitors to use digital tours and virtual reality tours to explore the palace from different perspectives. These new tools serve to enable people from all over the globe to understand and explore the palace as deeply as possible.
Whilst surrounding structures break the traditional rules, making the Forbidden City complex appear smaller, it is still an impressive example of ancient architecture. Its romantic history and stunning details serve to impress even the most well-travelled visitor, who can marvel at the sheer scale and grandeur.
The Forbidden City is indeed a marvel of the ancient world. Its size, age and scope make it one of the most luxurious and impressive palaces ever built. It is renowned for being the largest and most spectacular palace complex in the world, with its bright and colourful buildings, huge walls and magnificent architecture. The Forbidden City is an invaluable historical treasure and an incredible human achievement.
Architecture and Construction of the Forbidden City
The complexity of the Forbidden City and its remarkable architecture have long been admired by scholars and architects around the world. Built on a grand scale, the palace site covers 74 hectares surrounded by a 10-metre-high battlement wall, making it the largest and most complex palace complex in China.
The Forbidden City was carefully designed so that each building and garden corresponded to the symbolic values of feng shui, with natural elements carefully incorporated into the layout. Sun Yat-sen, leader of the Chinese Republic, described the layout of the Forbidden City as a “wondrously clever” use of the principles of feng shui, with the site taking on the perfect shape of a “turtle”. It was also believed that the Forbidden City was a miniature replica of the universe, with each layer of the architecture corresponding to a part of the cosmos.
The construction process of the Forbidden City was extremely difficult considering the scale and complexity of the palace. It was built using masonry bricks and traditional wooden frameworks, with many of the materials shipped from other parts of the country. The Forbidden City was built by 1 million workers from all over China, who used a variety of tools, from manual tools like shovels, hoes and axes to advanced Chinese machinery.
The sheer complexity of the Forbidden City and the skill of its craftsmen have long been admired by Chinese and European scholars. In 1985, the Forbidden City was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its complex architecture and rich cultural significance.
Preservation of the Forbidden City
In order to preserve the significant architectural and cultural artifacts of the Forbidden City, the Palace Museum has launched many different conservation projects to protect and maintain the palace buildings. One such project was the restoration of the Forbidden City’s gates. The project employed traditional conservation techniques combined with modern technologies to restore and protect the gates.
The Palace Museum also focuses on preserving and investigating the complex’s cultural relics. Research teams conduct studies on a variety of cultural artifacts, such as the flora and fauna in the Forbidden City, the Palace’s architecture, and the manuscripts held within the various archives. The Museum also conserves inscriptions, murals and other cultural relics, such as jade artifacts, gold and silverware, and porcelain.
In addition, the Palace Museum has partnered with Chinaculture.org, an online platform for cultural content, to launch a virtual tour of the Forbidden City. It has also collaborated with China’s National Palace Museum to launch an exhibition of digitally restored historical photos of the Forbidden City, inviting visitors from all over the world to explore the ancient palace.
As part of these efforts, the Palace Museum also launched a project for restoring and maintaining the painting and wall-carving in the Forbidden City complex. This project, funded by the Palace Museum, has aroused great interest amongst conservationists, architects and cultural historians, who believe that this endeavor will help to ensure the preservation of the architecture of the palace.