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One of China’s most famous and historically significant cultural sites, the Forbidden City served as the residence of 24 of China’s emperors from the early Ming dynasty until the abdication and expulsion of the last emperor Puyi in 1924.
Construction of the imperial palace began in 1406 at the order of the Yongle emperor (who also commissioned the Temple of Heaven) and was reportedly built by over a million workers, including thousands of highly skilled craftsmen. The palace complex has an area of approximately 720,000 square meters, and includes 980 surviving buildings, protected by a huge wall, moat and watchtowers. Built using the finest materials of the day, the ‘city’ is still very well preserved, and recently underwent extensive conservation and restoration work in the run-up to the 2008 Olympic Games.
The buildings are made largely of wood and stone, with a unique bonding agent made of sticky rice and egg white, which is known as Chinese concrete. Many of the materials for the palace’s construction were sourced from other parts of China, according to where the best were made, and so all of the glazed tiles and many of the carvings were made elsewhere by skilled designers.
The layout is highly traditional and symbolic, following the established practices of Feng Shui and incorporates references to all kinds of Chinese religion and philosophy. The complex is laid out according to an east-west north-south grid, with the most important buildings placed along the main central north-south axis. Important elements such as the yellow roof tiles and the danbi stones (carved stones laid into the ground on which only Gods and the emperors may walk) mark it out to be an imperial palace, while additions such as the repetition of the number 9 (see the bronze studs in the main doors) allude to the number’s traditional meaning as the largest and most important of all numbers (just as the emperor is the most important of all people) and also its meaning of eternity and permanence (as the two words sound very similar in Chinese) which expresses the hope that the emperor and his rule may be everlasting.
Dragons and phoenixes can be seen all over the Forbidden City, in paintings, carvings and statues, as they are the mythical symbols of ancient male and female, emperor and empress. The statuettes on the curved eaves of the multi-layered roofs are always lead by a man riding a phoenix, followed by an imperial dragon. The number of statues following behind denotes the importance of the building, and the Hall of Supreme Harmony has 10-the most found anywhere in China in imperial times.
The palace complex is divided into 2 main sections; the Inner Court and the Outer Court. The Outer Court, located at the southern end, is where visitors enter from Tiananmen Square. The first large square seen in the Outer Court contains a small river (water by an entrance is very important in Feng Shui) and was mainly used for large ceremonial occasions. On walking through this square (heading north) you will first go through the Gate of Supreme Harmony, and then into the Hall of Supreme Harmony. This is a remarkable building, the largest surviving example of traditional wooden architecture in China, and the ceremonial centre of the Forbidden City, used for major events such as weddings and coronations. The Inner Court is located towards the northern end of the Forbidden City, and is enclosed within another wall. It served as the living area of the emperor and his empress, while children, concubines and staff were housed in smaller courtyards to the east and west. The imperial garden, at the most northern end of the city, is very beautiful, though small, and incorporates a number of elaborate landscaping features.
Forbidden City Related Tour Packages: