The Forbidden City is the most iconic site located in Beijing, the epicenter of Chinese culture and history. Every year millions of people visit the palace complex and the surrounding gardens, to admire its majestic architecture and to experience the grandeur of its history. Five hundred years ago, the enormous walled complex was the spiritual and political center of the Chinese Empire under the rule of the Ming and Qing Dynasties.
The Forbidden City is the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world, with a grand total of 980 immaculately maintained buildings. The site’s impressive red walls stand twenty-five feet tall, ready to impress visitors as they arrive. Inside, the nearly one thousand buildings are arranged around nine grand plazas, reaching skies of more than fifty feet above the visitors’ eyes.
The Forbidden City was designed in the 15th century following the principles of ancient Chinese royal palaces, but with an extra elaboration.Built around 4,000,000 square feet, the palace complex is decorated with intricate dragons and beautiful details; this is an example of traditional Chinese architecture in its purest and most grandiose form. Unfortunately, the most of the decorative elements and beautiful artworks that once adorned the palace were looted and destroyed during the second part of the 20th century, when the imperial nature of the site was abolished.
Nowadays, the Forbidden City hosts the National Palace Museum, with 14 permanent galleries full of exquisite relics from Chinese culture. Every inch of the museum is aimed at teaching visitors about the development and evolution of Chinese art over five thousand of years. After the fall of the Qing dynasty, the new government opened the museum in 1925, ensuring that its precious collection would be preserved and protected.
The Forbidden City is found at the central part of Beijing and is easily accessible by subway and public transportation. When visiting the Forbidden City, tourists should bring sunblock, since the walls and roofs of the palace absorb heat. It is important to remember that photography, eating, and drinking are not allowed inside the palace.
City Walls and Gates
The Forbidden City is surrounded by a 12 meters high walls that measure 961 meters in length, with the four main gates located on the north, south, east and west sides. In the walls, nine rectangular gates, and 35 towers of different shapes can be seen in the complex, with 19 of them located on the wall and 16 on the corners of the palace. All of these were deliberately designed to impress visitors and enemies of the Chinese Empire, under the rule of emperors.
One of the most spectacular sites of the palace are the Meridian Gate (Wu Men) on the southern side. This is the main entrance to the complex, and the only one where the emperor would get out and ride on his chariots. The gate also had the raised golden cypher of the reigning emperor on it, who was allowed to step on the ground outside of the complex.
The imperial symbols in the Forbidden City are pervasive, from the dragon-adorned roof tiles to the giant Imperial Stairway under the Hall of Supreme Harmony. Of special note are the 360-degree views from the Gate of Divine Might, the largest and most heavily guarded of the Forbidden City’s gates.
The Forbidden City is divided into two parts, the Outer Court and the Inner Court, which are distinguished by the hierarchy of their purpose and layout. The Outer Court encompasses the southern section of the complex, while the Inner Court lies to the north, behind the Hall of Supreme Harmony.
The Outer Court was the part of the palaces dedicated to serve official state ceremonies and foreign dignitaries, while the Inner Court was used to house the emperor, his family, and the court officials. This is why the Inner Court was usually closed and inaccessible to the public, making it truly a forbidden place. Nowadays, the Outer Court of the palace is open for visitors to explore and discover with the help of a certified guide.
Walking around the palace, visitors can appreciate its incredible beauty, from the well-manicured lawns to the intricate details carved on the wooden structures. Each building and its decorations are steeped in ancient symbolism, with each square inch of the palace speaking to its humble past.In the south part of the complex, the Hall of Supreme Harmony stands proud, adorned with dragons, rare marble and calligraphic messages. Inside, a giant dragon throne awaits visitors to climb up and look outside under the blazing sun.
Apart from its impressive architecture, the Forbidden City houses numerous courtyards and pavilions which document the lives of the court officials, members of the Imperial family and the Emperor himself. Visitors can explore the Imperial Garden, where the ancient pine trees used to provide shade to the royal families, or the Hall of Mental Cultivation- the emperor’s last palace and a site of incredible beauty.
In the western side of the palace lies the Hall of Literary Brilliance, a place where generations of scholars were selected to take imperial exams and become part of the court. This is the birthplace of the prestigious Chinese culture. Further ahead, the Hall of Preserving Harmony, where the court officials and mandarins used to convulse around the emperor is captivating, where visitors can step over the famous marble bridge.
Finally, the Hall of Central Harmony constitutes the heart of the complex, a place where the emperor used to rest before attending important ceremonies. The Hall of Spiritual Nurturing is the last miniature palace in the Inner Court, and the emperor’s personal family chamber. This majestic building is rarely opened for the public, making it a special site of the Forbidden City.
The Forbidden City is now the home of more than 1.8 million cultural relics, including metalware, jade pieces, enamelware, porcelain wares, paintings, costumes, and musical instruments. While the relics moved in and out of the palace since its first construction, the collection has grown steadily through out the years, in particular during the Qing Dynasty. The most important of these is the Imperial Seals of China, which carries symbols of chinese emperor’s authority and power.
The treasures of the Forbidden City are displayed in different galleries .The most famous of these is the National Palace Museum where visitors can appreciate the finest pieces of Chinese artwork, precious ornaments, and literary texts. The collection includes ancient paintings, rare jade sculptures, and ceramics, as well as royal collections of golden and silver wares.
Walking around the museum, visitors will be able to traverse ancient China’s history, from the Shang dynasty to the late Qing dynasty. The old palaces are living witnesses of the country’s illustrious history, and the exquisite artifacts they preserve, available to admire in the museum galleries, give visitors a chance to time travel back to ancient times.
The Forbidden City’s layout is based on the ancient principles of Chinese geomancy and cosmology, with each one of its 980 buildings perfectly aligned with the surrounding landscape, in order to create a peaceful and harmonious atmosphere. The city is built on a raised base of white marble, associated with peace and purity, and the buildings are decorated with a range of impressive tiles in yellow, red, blue, and green.
The wooden columns and beams work together to create high ridges, open pavilions, and dormer windows, all of them together creating a three-dimensional effect that allows the architecture to breathe in the shadows of the sun, complementing the spectacular imperial buildings of the Forbidden City.
For more than 500 years the Forbidden City has preserved the grandeur of Chinese imperial structure. Today it stands as an iconic example of Chinese architecture and of a bygone era filled with mystery and splendor.
The Forbidden City is of paramount importance to Chinese culture, not only as a symbol of antiquity, but also for its cultural, political and religious significance. During its long history, the city, along with its contents, has celebrated the Chinese imperial structure and lifestyle, perpetuating the imperial influences that shaped China for centuries.
The Forbidden City is filled with works of art and ancient artifacts that illustrate both Chinese history and culture, and its significance to the world’s cultural heritage makes it an inexorable part of the global consciousness. To this day, the Forbidden City continues to captivate admirers with its grandeur, mystery, and beauty.
Legends and Stories
The Forbidden City is home to a range of stories, folklore and legends that are part of Chinese culture. Its gates, the Dragon Throne and each one of the artifacts display a range of stories that convey important teachings and beliefs of the time. Legends such as the one of the Nine Dragon Screens- used to ward off evil spirits- have been passed down since ancient times and are integral to Chinese identity.
Another great legends is the Chinese Zodiac, which tells how the twelve creatures of the Chinese calendar were determined. In order to decide on the order of the twelve animals, the Jade Emperor invited all the creatures to join a race. The rat had been cleverly mounted on the back of the Ox and was able to finish first, winning the rat the place at the beginning of the zodiac wheel.
The dragon is also an important figure in Chinese culture, which appears in the palace and its buildings in different forms. The Hall of Central Harmony houses a magnificent golden sculpture of a large nine-tailed dragon, a majestic piece depicting one of China’s most important symbols, representing strength, fertility, and luck.
Festivals and Celebrations
The Forbidden City has been the backdrop of countless festivals and ceremonies throughout history, with most of them linked to religious and imperial calendar celebrations, such as the lunar new year and the emperor’s birthday. Some of the most important ones are the Winter Solstice and the Spring Lantern festivals, filled with music, acrobatics, banquets and entertainment.
Nowadays, the Forbidden City organizes special events to commemorate important dates such as the Chinese New Year and Chinese National Day, or to celebrate traditional Chinese holidays such as the Guan Gong Festival, the Dragon Boat Festival and the Tomb Sweeping Festival. The events often include elaborate ceremonies, colorful theatrical performances, and art displays.
The ForbiddenCity offers the opportunity to visitors from all over the world to connect with its splendid culture and to admire the grandeur of the Chinese imperial period. It is the perfect blend of history, architecture, art, and culture.