The Forbidden City, or Imperial Palace, is one of the most iconic monuments in the world and it’s the architectural masterpiece of the Ming Dynasty, who built it 600 years ago. Also known as the Purple Forbidden City, as it is believed that the emperors were living in a city surrounded by an otherworldly aura, the Forbidden City, is China’s best-known historical monument. The massive and beautiful structure has remained virtually unchanged since it was built. Even though the architecture of the Ming Dynasty had influences from other dynasties, they left their unique imprint on the Forbidden City that is still evident today.
The construction of the forbidden city began between 1407 and 1420 during the reign of emporer Yongle, the third emperor of the Ming Dynasty. The Forbidden City was designed to be the political, economic and religious center of the capital and served as the dynasty’s political and religious hub for almost 500 years. Yongle’s successor and grandson, Xuande, made additional modifications and enlargements to the structure. In total, over 500,000 workers from all over the country were involved in the construction, and the project took fourteen years and an extravagant sum of money to finish.
The Forbidden City consists of a complex of courtyards, pavilions and towers distributed around two perpendicular main axis, one north-south and the other east-west. It contains 9,999 buildings with red walls and yellow roofs, stretching for some 3 kilometers and housing the imperial palace, government offices and a large imperial garden.
There is a great amount of symbolism incorporated in the design of the Forbidden City, allowing us to further institutionalize and recognize the power and influence of the Ming Dynasty. For example, the number nine was highly revered as it holds a spiritual significance in Chinese culture and can be seen in various aspects of the Palace, such as the number of gates, walls, and buildings.
Aside from the symbolism, the ambitious design elements allowed the Forbidden City to remain standing powerfully over the past 600 years since it was built, despite several natural disasters and other major events leading to widespread destruction. The roof tiles are made of yellow glazed tile, while the walls are constructed of an inner layer of brown brick and an outer layer of mirrored gilt and colored spikes. The roofs are also reinforced with interlocking tiles, which make the structure stronger and more resistant to harsh weather.
The Forbidden City has had a tumultuous history, and much of the original structure has been destroyed or damaged over its lifespan. Fortunately, the building’s impressive architecture, grand scale and superb engineering have enabled the Forbidden City to continue its centuries of influence and remain one of the most famous and recognizable buildings in the world.
The Ming Dynasty was the first dynasty to construct a palace on a grand scale and the Forbidden City represented the height of its power and influence. It established strong cultural values for the time and served as a model for other rulers throughout the region. It set a standard for palace design and acted as an influence for many other rulers. Many of the architectural and decorative elements that were used at the Forbidden City were used in other palaces in the region, giving us an insight into the importance of the Ming Dynasty.
Moreover, it was not only the impressive size and splendor of the Forbidden City that was so impactful, but also the symbolism and the respect it was given by the ancient Chinese citizens. The palace was surrounded by high walls and guarded by imperial soldiers, giving it a unique and awe-inspiring atmosphere. It was seen as a sacred and forbidden territory, as very few were allowed to enter.
The city was also surrounded by powerful symbols of protection and divine authority. In its center stood the Hall of Supreme Harmony and the Throne, visibly dominating the complex with its three arches. Dragons and phoenixes adorned most of the structures and rooftops, further reinforcing the majesty of the place. Having been built with careful consideration, it was a place that struck awe and reverence in anyone who encountered it.
The Forbidden City is a remarkable example of Ming Dynasty architecture, combining the traditional Chinese style of the period with many new ideas and components that have made it a UNESCO World Heritage site. The scale and complexity of the design is only visible when one sees the building in the flesh, as a single photograph can never do the building justice.
From an architectural point of view, an impressive element of the Forbidden City is the numerical symbolism it contains. Throughout the complex, there are many xirang gates and corridors that were used to control the flow of people and ensure that no one was intruding in the forbidden area. A number of halls, courtyards and pavilions were spotted at the Forbidden City, all reflecting the unique style of the Ming Dynasty.
Another notable feature of the Forbidden City is the use of color. While red-painted walls and yellow-tiled roofs were used commonly in Chinese palaces, the color scheme of the Forbidden City was different and more sophisticated. From the green roof tiles to the intricate hints of blue, the Forbidden City came alive with a gorgeously colorful display.
The city also has an extensive network of water structures, many of which have been carefully designed to provide the palace with a measure of protection from floods and other natural disasters. Moreover, Ming architects also employed various highly sophisticated drainage systems to ensure that the palace stayed dry even during heavy rains.
Symbolism in Architecture
The symbolism of the Forbidden City architecture is not a coincidence. Chinese emperors were believed to be responsible for maintaining the balance between order and chaos and were obliged to demonstrate that their rule was in accordance with these ideals. As such, the Forbidden City was designed to not only be a power symbol but also serve as a sign of harmony, balance and order.
The most powerful symbol of the city is the three arch entrance of the palace, signifying the harmony between Heaven and Earth. The main axis of the palace extending from the main entrance to the Hall of Supreme Harmony passed through the palace, where it was believed to be protected by the gods. In addition, the two other axes were seen as a symbol of Earth and Humanity and were each associated with a dragon and a phoenix.
Additionally, the emperors often used feng shui techniques to select a location for the Forbidden City. This included avoiding any buildings which were in the shape of a coffin or dragon, while choosing the ideal location on the basis of its capacity to absorb the positive influences from the environment.
Interiors of the Forbidden City
Inside the walls of the Forbidden City, one can find some of the most intricate structures in China with mazes of courtyards and pavilions. The courtyards are generally centered around one main structure, the Hall of Supreme Harmony. This is a large and impressive palace with the throne at its center and the emperor’s table on its left. Other important buildings within the complex include the Hall of Preserving Harmony, the Hall of Middle Perfection and the Hall of Literary Profundity.
The pavilions vary in size and shape, located at the side and rear courtyards of the palace. These pavilions were primarily used for either storage or private accommodations, but some were also used as a place to receive visitors or as an audience hall. Perhaps the most important one is the Imperial Garden, which was used to receive the most important foreign dignitaries.
The interiors of the Forbidden City are in some ways a reflection of the Chinese imperial court at that time. Every inch of the palace has been elaborately decorated with sculptures, paintings, and carvings. These works of art were often commissioned by the emperor or presented as gifts from other rulers. The designs and colors used on the walls and ceilings create a magical atmosphere that is hard to find elsewhere.
The Forbidden City is famous for its various monuments and landmarks. The most remarkable among the monuments is the imposing Gate of Heavenly Peace located at the entrance of the Forbidden City. This single structure has become a symbol of imperial grandeur and power. Other famous monuments include the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the Pavilion of Pleasant Rains, and the Heavenly Gate Pagoda.
The Forbidden City also houses many artifacts, sculptures and relics that have been carefully preserved over the years. Some of these artifacts include the Emperor’s ceremonial robes and armor, and the vast collection of Chinese art, which includes paintings, calligraphy, jade carvings and statues. One of the most important artifacts is the five-meter-high White Pagoda which houses a collection of imperial seals and other important documents.
In addition to these monuments and artifacts, the Forbidden City is home to many temples that house a wealth of valuable artifacts and showcase a range of important Chinese traditions. These include the Temple of Heaven, the Temple of Agriculture and the Temple of Earthly Tranquility. These temples are of great religious and historical importance and are frequently visited by tourists from around the world.