Historical Places

The Forbidden City

Designated as a World Cultural Heritage Building, the Forbidden City is a magnificent former imperial palace built during the Ming Dynasty. It is enormous in scale, covering an area of almost 178 acres and including 8,700 rooms. The entire palace complex is surrounded by a high red wall, with four gates, one on each side, with the Meridian Gate (Wu Men) forming the main entrance. On each corner of the palace compound is a stunning watchtower decorated in eye-catching gold and red.

The Forbidden City is also known as the Palace Museum and in its halls and galleries houses over a million national treasures and artifacts, including art, pottery and bronzes.

(Dragon statue in Forbidden City) Dragon statue in Forbidden City.

The construction of the Forbidden City took 14 years, from 1406 to 1420. During the Ming Dynasty (until 1644) and Qing Dynasty (from 1644 to 1911) 24 emperors called the Forbidden City home. Housing the imperial family, their huge cadre of attendants, and a massive bureaucracy, the Forbidden City was true to its name and functioned as a self-contained community.

Barred to outsiders during the 500 years of its use as a palace, tourists can now enter the Forbidden City through the Wu Men Meridian Gate or the Shenwu Men (Gate of Divine Might). The Meridian Gate is the tallest of all the buildings in the palace and has five entrances for people of different ranks. The central entrance was for the Emperor alone and the Empress on her wedding day. The royal family members used the entrance on the west and the ministers used the eastern entrance.

The Outer Court contains three huge halls, including Taihe Dian, the Hall of Supreme Harmony. This is the largest and most magnificent of all the halls in the palace. Also known as the Hall of the Golden Throne, it was used for grand occasions and celebrations, and the sumptuous decor served to remind visitors of imperial power.

On the either side of the Inner Court are the Six Western Palaces (Xiliu Gong) and the Six Eastern Palaces (Dongliu Gong) where the Emperor’s wives and their attendants lived. Polygamy was legal in the feudal era of China’s history. One of the palaces, the Palace of Eternal Spring, has a famous fresco of a scene from a novel, ‘A Dream of Red Mansions’, popular with the Empress Cixi during the Qing Dynasty. Wanrong, the last empress, also lived in this palace, and there are a number of items from that era displayed.

(Forbidden City - Imperial Palace) Forbidden City - Imperial Palace.

At the southern end of the area containing the wives’ palaces is the colorful Nine Dragon Wall, made of glazed tiles and depicting dragons at play.

The Hall for Ancestral Worship (Fengxian Dian) was originally where emperors marked their respect for their ancestors. Now the hall houses an impressive collection of clocks and watches, made in the imperial workshops and elsewhere. Some of the clocks and watches on display are 2000 years old and still work perfectly.

The Imperial Garden, located behind the Hall of Earthly Tranquility, is almost 3 acres of formal, symmetric gardens, with four lovely pavilions named after the four seasons. In the center is Qin’an Dian, the Hall of Imperial Peace. The paths throughout the garden are made of vari-colored pebbles creating designs of flowers, landscapes and images taken from famous stories.

Touring the Forbidden City is an awe-inspiring experience, impressing visitors with the palace’s massive scale and its magnificent decoration.