Building the Forbidden City
Built between 1406 and 1420 by the fifth Emperor of the Ming dynasty, Zhu Di, the Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace for almost 500 years. As the spiritual, political and cultural center of the Chinese Empire, it was intended to be a grand and imposing vision, constructed from the highest quality stone and timber available in the land and adorned with a multitude of work by the most talented of Chinese craftsman. But how many people did it take to build, and how many people actually lived there?
The Forbidden City was designed as a walled city of more than 7 square miles, divided into two sections — an inner court, where the emperor and his family lived, and an outer court, where the emperor conducted much of the state’s business. To build the palace, experts estimate that a work force of over a million Chinese were required. They were responsible for all of the excavation, construction, carpentry and masonry. Further, craftsmen from all over the country were invited to bring their talents and expertise to the building, leading to the creation of some of the most luxurious, ornate, and sought-after artworks of the day.
The palace complex is thought to have been surrounded by up to a million people — servants, eunuchs, court officials, and artisans — all of whom were employed by the court. Of these, it is thought that just a few thousand actually lived in or around the Forbidden City, while the majority of them returned to their homes outside of the city walls every day. In its heyday, the Forbidden City was known for its extravagance and decadence, from the ornate and lavishly decorated interiors to the lavish banquets held for visiting dignitaries and guests.
In the centuries since it was built, the Forbidden City has remained a fascinating and enigmatic place. Even today, it retains much of its original character, having been painstakingly restored and maintained for centuries. While the Forbidden City will never again be the same bustling, vibrant center of cultural and political life that it was in the days of the Ming and Qing Dynasties, it still stands as a living reminder of China’s rich history and culture.
The People Who Lived in the Forbidden City
In addition to the millions of workers who built the Forbidden City, there were a select few who actually lived within the palace walls. At its peak, it was home to over 10,000 people, including the emperor, his family and members of the royal household. The emperor was surrounded by consorts, concubines and eunuchs, many of whom had their own quarters in the palace. These people were supported by an army of servants, including musicians, tailors and cooks, who saw to the day-to-day running of the palace.
Also living in the Forbidden City was an elite group of court officials, many of whom had spent their entire lives living in the palace and become inured to its many luxurious excesses. These court officials were responsible for running the empire and managing the emperor’s affairs. As such, many of them held considerable power in their own right.
Other important people who lived in the Forbidden City were the artisans and craftsmen who were constantly busy creating luxurious items and works of art for the court’s pleasure. These men had been gathered from all over the country and were highly sought-after for their skills and knowledge. They created beautiful ornamental pieces and lavish works of art, imbued with their own personal styles and stories.
Architecture in the Forbidden City
A key feature of the Forbidden City is its impressively vast and ornate architecture. It consists of nearly 800 impressive buildings which are interconnected by a network of secret passages, courtyards and winding corridors. These buildings vary in size and style, though many follow the same basic patterns.
The architecture of the Forbidden City is influenced by feng shui principles, which dictate the use of symmetrical elements, geometric shapes and carefully balanced colors. This is thought to replicate the balance and harmony of the universe, creating an atmosphere of serenity and prosperity. The most important buildings are situated in the centre of the palace, with the most important being the Hall of Supreme Harmony – the Emperor’s throne room. It is here where courtiers and officials would gather for important ceremonies.
Other major buildings of the Forbidden City are the Hall of Middle Harmony – where the emperor held his private audiences, the Hall of Preserving Harmony – where the emperor met with the courtiers in order to discuss important state matters, and the Hall of Inside Harmony – home to the emperor’s private study. In addition to these buildings, the palace contains temples, gardens, pavilions, and various other structures, all of which demonstrate the great skill and creativity of the Chinese people.
Protection in the Forbidden City
The Forbidden City also had its own security system, which was heavily fortified and virtually impregnable. Its walls were up to 9 metres thick and made of granite, and its gates were made from solid bronze and steel. These walls and gates were guarded by an army of 8,000 imperial guards, who worked day and night to protect the palace from potential intruders.
The Forbidden City also had its own defence system, which consisted of a network of towers, cannons, moats and other fortifications. These defences were regularly maintained and updated, and were intended to deter any potential invasions.
In addition to these defences, the Forbidden City also had its own secret service, which was responsible for uncovering and intercepting any potential plots against the emperor. This secret service was widely feared, and it was said that the mere sight of one of its agents was enough to scare the most hardened of criminals into submission.
Modern day Forbidden City
Today, the Forbidden City has been transformed into a museum, and is one of Beijing’s top attractions. It is visited by thousands of people every year who come to explore the palace’s grand and mysterious halls, courtyards and pavilions. Chinese citizens, in particular, come to pay homage to their former rulers.
Although the Forbidden City is no longer the political, cultural and spiritual center of China, it is still one of the country’s most important sites. It stands as a reminder of a glistening past, and a testament to the grand ambitions and creative genius of the Chinese people.
Ancient Arts and Crafts in the Forbidden City
The Forbidden City also served as a center for ancient Chinese arts and crafts. During its heyday, the palace contained many workshops where skilled craftsman worked tirelessly to create intricate and beautiful works of art which were commissioned by the emperor. These pieces included sculptures, jewelry, furniture, lacquerware, ceramics, and much more.
Many of these craftsmen achieved great fame and fortune during their time in the Forbidden City, and their work is highly sought-after and collected by museums and individual collectors from all around the world. In addition to the magnificent works of art created within the walls of the Forbidden City, its gardens and courtyards also contained some of the finest examples of Chinese landscape painting and calligraphy.
Nowadays, the Forbidden City is a popular destination for art lovers and history enthusiasts, who come to appreciate the works of Chinese art and marvel at the grandeur of the ancient palace. Its many galleries are filled with artifacts and works of art, which offer the visitor a glimpse into the magnificent and mysterious world of the Chinese imperial court.
Cultural Legacy of the Forbidden City
The Forbidden City has stood as the divine centre of imperial power of the Chinese people for centuries, and it continues to capture the imagination of visitors today. Its legacy can still be seen in many aspects of Chinese culture, from the ceremonies that are still performed within its walls, to the influence of its architectural style on modern buildings in Beijing.
Over the centuries, the Forbidden City has served as an inspiration for much of China’s literature, art and music. Many stories, poems and songs have been written about its beauty, grandeur and mystery. It has also been the subject of many films, books and television shows, which have sought to explore its fascinating past.
Today, the Forbidden City remains one of China’s most visited tourist attractions, and is a testament to the Chinese people’s passion for their history and culture. For those who visit, it provides a rare opportunity to step back in time and explore one of the world’s greatest historical sites.
Visiting the Forbidden City
The Forbidden City is open to the public and is easily accessible via public transport or by foot. The entrance fee is very affordable, and visitors can explore the grand palaces and courtyards at their own pace. During their visit, visitors can also learn about the history and culture of the Chinese dynasty which built and lived in this remarkable place.
Visitors are encouraged to take their time exploring the Forbidden City, in order to fully marvel at its grandeur and beauty. It is well worth taking the time to appreciate its incredible architecture, artwork and history, as it is truly one of the world’s most fascinating sites.
Cultural Impact of the Forbidden City
The legacy of the Forbidden City has left an indelible mark on Chinese culture. Its beauty, grandeur and majesty have served as an inspiration to generations of Chinese people. The palace’s stunning architecture, ornate works of art and sophisticated security system remind visitors of a time when China was one of the most powerful empires on Earth.
Today, the Forbidden City is viewed as a symbol of Chinese culture and its importance to the nation is undeniable. It stands as a reminder of a glorious past, and its presence inspires the Chinese people to continue striving for excellence. It is an enduring symbol of Chinese culture and tradition, and is sure to remain so for many years to come.