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Beijing's Forbidden City is one of the most popular tourist destinations in China.
It's no wonder, with its splendid imperial palace and imperial garden, as well as its rich Chinese culture, the Forbidden City is an enigmatic place. This historical palace is a perfect example of Chinese architecture.
If you're planning on visiting this amazing attraction, make sure to read our list of Forbidden City China facts first! This will help you make the most of your visit and ensure that you don't miss anything important.
For almost 500 years, the Forbidden City (translation from the Chinese name) was the royal residence of Chinese emperors and imperial family, as well as the ceremonial and political core of the Chinese government.
The Forbidden City was constructed in the early 15th century, during the Ming Dynasty. It served as the imperial palace for 24 emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. In 1925, it was converted into a museum, and since then, it has been open to the public.
Emperor Yongle, the third of the Ming Dynasty, commenced building in 1406 and finished the complex in 1420. 14 Ming emperors ruled there until 1644 when the Manchus took control and relocated the capital to Shenyang for a few months.
The Qing Dynasty quickly returned the capital to Beijing and the Forbidden City. A total of 10 Qing emperors reigned from there until the last emperor was forced to abdicate in 1912 by the Chinese government when the Republic of China was established.
When Hongwu Emperor's son Zhu Di became Yongle Emperor, he relocated the capital from Nanjing to Beijing, and the building of what would become the Forbidden City started in 1406.
After housing 24 monarchs, 14 of the Ming dynasty and 10 of the Qing dynasties, the Forbidden City (imperial complex) ceased to be China's political center in 1912, as the last Chinese Emperor Puyi abdicated. Puyi stayed in the Inner Court under an arrangement with the new Republic of China administration, while the Outer Court was turned over to public use until he was expelled during a coup in 1924. In 1925, the Palace Museum was created in the Forbidden City. The Japanese invasion of China in 1933 necessitated the evacuation of the Forbidden City's national treasures.
Part of the collection was restored at the conclusion of WWII, but the rest was evacuated to Taiwan in 1948 by Chiang Kai-shek, whose Kuomintang was losing the Chinese Civil War. This tiny but high-quality collection was held in storage until 1965, when it was reopened to the public as the foundation of the National Palace Museum in Taipei.
As the country was caught up in revolutionary zeal following the creation of the People's Republic of China in 1949, substantial damage was done to the Forbidden City. During the Cultural Revolution, however, Premier Zhou Enlai ordered an army unit to garrison the city, preventing additional devastation.
The Qing emperor renamed several of the palace's major structures to emphasize 'harmony' rather than 'supremacy,' made the bilingual nameplates in Chinese and Manchu, and brought Shamanist aspects to the imperial palace.
The 12 palaces were where many of the Qing emperors were born and raised, and they were central to the royal family's everyday existence. Empress Dowager Cixi, who lived in one of the Western Palaces during the late Qing dynasty, was known as the 'Western empress.' Empress Dowager Ci'an, her co-regent, dwelt in one of the Eastern Palaces and was so known as the 'Eastern empress.'
During the Qing era, when Emperors attended outer court significantly more regularly, a less formal site was chosen instead, and the Hall of Supreme Harmony was primarily used for ceremonial events, such as coronations, investitures, and imperial weddings. The emperor used the Hall of Central Harmony, a smaller, square hall, to prepare and rest before and during events.
The historic significance of the place because of its Chinese architecture and culture led to it being designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987 as the 'Imperial Palaces of the Ming and Qing Dynasties.' It's presently managed by the Palace Museum, which is undertaking a 16-year restoration effort to repair and restore all structures in the Forbidden City to their pre-1912 condition after the last emperor.
The Forbidden City is shaped like a rectangle, spanning 3,153 ft (961 m) north to south and 2470 ft (752 m) east to west. It comprises 980 historic buildings with a total of 8,886 room bays. Based on oral tradition, a prevalent misconception holds that there are 9,999 rooms, including antechambers, which is not supported by survey findings. The Forbidden City was intended to be the focal point of Beijing's historic, walled city. It's surrounded by a bigger, walled region known as the Imperial City. The Inner City encircles the Imperial City, which is surrounded by the Outer City to the south.
The core north-south axis of Beijing remains the central axis. This axis continues to the south via Tiananmen Gate to Tiananmen Square, the People's Republic of China's ceremonial center, and on to Yongdingmen. It runs via Jingshan Hill to the Bell and Drum Towers to the north. This axis isn't exactly north-south, but it's off by around two degrees. Researchers now assume that the axis was planned during the Yuan period to be aligned with Xanadu, the empire's other capital.
The Forbidden City is bordered by a city wall that's 26 ft (7.9 m) high and a moat 20 ft (6 m) deep by 171 ft (52 m) wide. The walls are 28.3 ft (8.62 m) broad at the bottom and taper to 21.9 ft (6.66 m) at the top. These walls served the palace as both defensive and retaining barriers. They were built with a rammed earth core and three layers of carefully baked bricks on both sides, with the gaps filled with mortar.
Towers (E) on the four corners of the wall have elaborate roofs with 72 ridges, resembling the Pavilion of Prince Teng and the Yellow Crane Pavilion as seen in Song period art. Outside the fortifications, these towers are the most conspicuous features of the palace, and there are many legends associated with them. According to mythology, workers were unable to reassemble a corner tower after it had been destroyed for restorations in the early Qing dynasty, and it was only reconstructed following the intervention of carpenter-immortal Lu Ban.
Each side of the wall is pierced with a gate. The main Meridian Gate is located at the southern end (A). The Gate of Divine Might (B) faces Jingshan Park to the north. The east and west gates are known as the 'East Glorious Gate' (D) and 'West Glorious Gate' (D), respectively (C). Except for the East Glorious Gate, which has just eight rows, all gates in the Forbidden City are ornamented with a nine-by-nine array of golden doornails.
Before it, the Meridian Gate has two extending wings that create three sides of a square (Wumen, or Meridian Gate, Square). The gate has five entrances. The central gateway is a section of the Imperial Way, a stone-flagged route that runs from the Gate of China in the south to Jingshan in the north and constitutes the center axis of the Forbidden City and the historic city of Beijing itself. Except for the Empress on the occasion of her wedding and successful pupils following the Imperial Examination, only the Emperor may walk or ride on the Imperial Way.
The Forbidden City has traditionally been divided into two parts; the Outer and Inner Courts, which includes the southern sections that were used for ceremonial purposes, and the Inner Court or Back Palace, which includes the northern sections and was the residence of the Emperor and his family, as well as used for day-to-day state affairs. The Forbidden City has three central axis in general. The most notable structures are located along the central north-south axis.
The Western Palaces and the Eastern Palaces are located to the west and east of the three major halls of the Inner Court. These palaces served as the imperial dignity apartments. Six palaces were located to the west and six palaces were located to the east of the three major halls. The Western and Eastern Palaces are each laid out with three palaces on either side of a north-south lane.
The Forbidden City is divided into two parts; the ceremonial Outer Court and the residential Inner Court. There are several trees in the Inner Court, but none in the Outer Court.
There is no general explanation for the absence of trees in the Outer Court. There are, however, two major theories:
No trees were permitted in the Outer Court, where solemn public rituals were performed and the emperors' 'supreme divine authority' and imperial dignity were presented, since they would overshadow or interrupt the majesty of the atmosphere.
A lack of foliage would provide assassins with nowhere to hide as well as clear lines of sight for defensive purposes.
Each palace has its own courtyard, main hall, and side hall. The major halls are in the center, with subsidiary halls to the east and west. The outer court and main hall were utilized for receptions, while the back courtyard and main hall were used for dwelling quarters. The halls of Military Eminence (H) and Literary Glory (L) are located to the southwest and southeast of the Outer Court (J).
The term 'Forbidden City' is a translation of the Chinese name Zijin Cheng (lit. 'Purple Forbidden City'). The name Zijin Cheng first appears in print in 1576. 'Forbidden Palace' is another English name with a similar provenance. The name 'Zijin Cheng' is significant on several levels. Zi, or 'Purple,' refers to the North Star, which was known as the Ziwei Star in ancient China and was the Celestial Emperor's residence in traditional Chinese astrology. This makes it one of the royal residences of Chinese emperors having heavenly peace.
Today, the location is best known in Chinese as Gùgng, which translates as 'Former Palace.' The museum housed in these structures is known as the 'Palace Museum.'
The Palace Museum houses 340,000 ceramics and porcelain artifacts. Imperial collections from the Tang and Song dynasties are among them. It houses about 50,000 artworks, the majority of which come from before the Yuan era and are the biggest collection in China. Its bronze collection dates from the Shang dynasty's early years. Approximately 1,600 of the almost 10,000 artifacts on display are pre-Qin era inscribed artifacts. Ceremonial bronze ware from the imperial court makes up a considerable portion of the collection. With almost 1,000 pieces, the Palace Museum boasts one of the world's biggest collections of mechanical clocks from the 18th and 19th centuries.
The collection includes both Chinese and imported items. Chinese items were created at the palace's own workshops. Jade holds a special position in Chinese culture. There are around 30,000 artifacts in the Museum's collection. Several objects from the collection's pre-Yuan dynasty are famous throughout history.
The earliest pieces date back to the Neolithic era. A substantial component of the museum's collection, in addition to works of art, consists of imperial court relics. This comprises objects used in daily life by the royal family and the palace. This extensive collection preserves Chinese history, imperial period daily life and ceremonial rituals. At the conclusion of World War II, a portion of the collection was returned.
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