As a former imperial palace, the Forbidden City was once reserved for the emperor and his entourage. Since 1924, the magnificent halls have also been open to the people and visitors.
The Forbidden City (Zijincheng), is called the Imperial Palace (Gugong) by most Chinese. It is located in the centre of the Chinese capital Beijing at the northern end of Tian'anmen, Tiananmen Square, and covers an area of about 720,000 square metres. The Forbidden City has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987 and is also one of our Top 10 Sights of China.
The Forbidden City takes its name from the time of the Chinese emperors before 1924, when only the emperor and his entourage were allowed within its walls. The Forbidden City is enclosed by a 10-metre-high wall and a 52-metre-wide moat.
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PICTURES: Forbidden City in Beijing
Creation of the Forbidden City in Beijing
The Forbidden City was built between 1406 and 1420 by order of the third emperor of the Ming Dynasty, Yongle. At times, a million slaves and up to 10,000 artisans are said to have worked on its construction. Until the expulsion of the last emperor, 24 rulers lived in the Forbidden City within 500 years and pulled their strings of government from there.
The construction of the imperial palace followed the strictest rules of the very highest imperial power and hierarchical order. The emperor's control centre was located in the middle of the north-south aligned chequerboard pattern, all roofs were glazed gold or yellow and no building in the city was allowed to be higher than the 35m of the imperial palace.
In 1860, British-French troops occupied the Forbidden City in the course of the Opium War, and in 1900 the Empress Dowager Cixi was driven out of the imperial palace by the Boxer Rebellion.
Fantastic treasures of the Forbidden City
Architectural masterpieces and artisanal treasures abound in the Forbidden City. Hand-carved marble balustrades and wooden ornaments are everywhere you look. Especially worth seeing are the Palace of Heavenly Clarity with its throne, which is hard to beat for splendour, the government halls "Zhong He Dian", Hall of Middle Harmony and "Bao He Dian", Hall of Preserving Harmony or the Wall of the Nine Dragons.
The Gate of Supreme Harmony is the entrance to the hall of the same name, "Tai He Dian", and is guarded by two bronze lion statues. This hall contains the Dragon Throne, placed exactly on the north-south axis and flanked by two elephants as a sign of peace. It is used for imperial ceremonies and celebrations, such as the coronation of a new ruler.
In addition, there were separate rooms for various residents and occasions. In the three palaces "Quanqinggong" (Palace of Heavenly Purity), "Jiaotaidian" (Hall of the Touch of Heaven and Earth) and the "Kunninggong" (Palace of Earthly Tranquillity) lived the imperial family and his court consisting of hundreds of ladies-in-waiting and their own palace eunuchs. There were separate rooms for the emperor's concubines, for the empress and the emperor when he wanted to have his rest (Hall for the Formation of Emotions) or was fasting.
Tip: The extra entrance fee for the Nine Dragon Wall is not really worth it, especially if you also plan to visit Beihai Park, where you can also see a (more beautiful) Nine Dragon Wall.
Visit to the Forbidden City in Beijing
Today, the Forbidden City is no longer off-limits and is an absolute must-see for every visitor to Beijing. It was extensively restored for the 2008 Olympic Games, and the renovation work was not completely finished until 2020.
Entrance gates are located in all four directions, the most famous being the northern Tian'anmen, which leads to Tiananmen Square. To explore the entire complex, you should plan at least half a day and be there as early as possible, as the Forbidden City is anything but off-limits to crowds of tourists these days. Many palaces have been converted into museums and are relatively crowded.
Orientation in the Forbidden City
To really discover all the masterpieces, it is best to proceed systematically in several self-contained tours. The best overview of the Forbidden City is from Jingshan Park, which is located right at the back exit of the Forbidden City. The halls and paths are actually sufficiently described in English, sometimes a little briefly. For detailed background information, a travel guide is recommended.
For those who are shy of people: if you stay off the main paths, for example in the Palace of Culture of the Working People, which is directly attached to the Imperial Palace, you will be surprised how quiet it can be in the Forbidden City.
Curious: the Forbidden City comprises 9,999.5 rooms. Only heaven was allowed 10,000 rooms, so the emperors of China, the "sons of heaven", had to be content with half a room less. By the way, 10,000, "yi wan" also means "infinite".