The Forbidden City, China

Forbidden City, China

The Hall of Supreme Harmony at the centre of the Forbidden City. Photo by Jacob Ehnmark via Flickr

Located at the exact centre of the ancient city of Beijing, the Forbidden City was the imperial palace and home to 24 emperors during the mid-Ming and the Qing Dynasties.

Known now as the Palace Museum (‘GuGong’ in Chinese, meaning simply ‘Old Palace’), its extensive grounds cover 720,000 square meters, 800 buildings and more than 8,000 rooms. As such, it is listed by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world, and was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987 as the “Imperial Palace of the Ming and Qing Dynasties”. The Imperial Palace Grounds are located directly to the north of Tiananmen Square and are accessible from the square via Tiananmen Gate. It is surrounded by a large area called the Imperial City.

Generally, the Forbidden City has three vertical axes. The most important buildings are situated on the central north–south axis. There are unique and delicately structured towers on each of the four corners of the curtain wall. These afford views over both the palace and the city outside.
The Forbidden City is divided into two parts:

– The Outer Court, which includes the southern and central sections, centres on three halls used for ceremonial purposes, such as coronations, investitures, and imperial weddings.
The three halls include the magnificent Hall of Supreme Harmony. Built above three levels of marble stone base, and surrounded by bronze incense burners, the Hall of Supreme Harmony is the largest wooden structure within China. It was the location where Ming Dynasty and Qing Dynasty Emperors hosted their enthronement and wedding ceremonies.
Apart from ceremony, the Outer Court also houses the imperial library, archives, and lantern storage.

– The Inner Court includes the northern, eastern, and western parts of the Forbidden City, and centres on another three halls used for day-to-day affairs of state. The most important among these is the Palace of Heavenly Purity, or Qianqing Palace. It is the largest of the three halls of the Inner Court. During the Qing dynasty, the palace often served as the Emperor’s audience hall, where he held council with his cabinet.

The Forbidden City is surrounded by royal gardens and at the northern end is the imperial garden. It is home to some relatively old trees, most between 100 and 300 years of age.

Although no longer occupied by royalty, the Forbidden City remains a symbol of Chinese sovereignty and the image of Tiananmen, the entrance to the Imperial City, appears on the seal of the People’s Republic of China.
The Palace Museum is now one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world. Visitors can wander through the traditional palace architecture, view the art and artefacts in exhibitions and recreations, and learn of the many legends involving the imperial family and court. Electronic audio tours in many languages are available. Over 1 million treasures are stored here in total.

An excellent view of the Forbidden City from the north is seen atop Coal Hill in Jingshan Park. The hill is made from the dirt excavated from the moat surrounding the Forbidden City, and according to Feng Shui, keeps the evil spirits from the north from entering.

The Palace Museum is China’s most magnetic tourist destination and receives nearly 10 million visitors each year.

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