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 Essential Architecture-  Peking

The Forbidden City (World Heritage Site)


site was chosen by the third Ming Dynasty emperor Yongle (1402 - 1424)


Beijing / Peking, China




Ming Dynasty


wood, stone


 Click thumbnails for larger images.
The Forbidden City (pinyin: Zijinchéng; literally "Purple Forbidden City") was the Chinese imperial palace during the mid-Ming and the Qing Dynasties. The Forbidden City is located in the middle of Beijing, China. It is now known as the Palace Museum.

Its extensive grounds cover 720,000 square meters. The Forbidden City has 800 buildings with more than 8,000 rooms.

The Forbidden City is listed by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world. The Forbidden City was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987 as the "Imperial Palace of the Ming and Qing Dynasties."

The Palace Museum in the Forbidden City should not be confused with the National Palace Museum in Taiwan. Both museums derive from the same institution, but they were split after the Chinese Civil War.

The Forbidden City is known by many names. The name by which the site is most commonly known in English, "The Forbidden City," is a translation of the Chinese name Zijin Cheng (???), which literally means "Purple Forbidden City." It is also known as the "Forbidden Palace" in English.

Today, the site is most commonly known as Gugong (??) in Chinese, which means the "Former Palace."[1] The museum which is located in these buildings is known as the "Palace Museum" (Chinese: ?????; pinyin: Gùgong Bówùyùan).

In the Manchu language it is called Dabkuri dorgi hoton, which literally means the "Layered Inner City."


The imperial throne inside the Palace of Heavenly Purity, the place of day-to-day government and imperial audiences
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.

Rectangular in shape, the Forbidden City is the world's largest palace complex and covers 720,000 square meters (178 acres, or 0.28 square miles). It is surrounded by a six meter deep moat and a ten meter high wall. The Forbidden City includes five halls, seventeen palaces, and numerous other buildings.

The Forbidden Palace is reputed to have a total of 9,999.5 rooms. However, according to surveying by the Palace Museum, there are about 8,600 existing rooms.

The majority of buildings in the Forbidden City have an odd number of rooms, distributed symmetrically about an axis. However, the Imperial Library (???) had six rooms as a charm against fire, because the number six is associated with water in Chinese astrology. To prevent that building from looking out of place, the sixth room was built very small. This sixth room is what is designated as the "half-room."

The wall around the Forbidden City has a gate on each side. At the southern end is the Meridian Gate[2] To the north is the Gate of Divine Might, which faces Jingshan Park. The distance between these two gates is 960 meters, while the distance between the gates in the east and west walls is 750 meters. The walls are thick and squat and were specifically designed to withstand attacks by cannons.

There are unique and delicately structured towers on each of the four corners of the surrounding wall. These towers 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 which were used for ceremonial purposes, such as coronations, investitures, and imperial weddings. The three halls include the magnificent Hall of Supreme Harmony (???), itself fronted by the Gate of Supreme Harmony (???). 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 which were used for the day-to-day affairs of state. The most important among these is the Palace of Heavenly Purity (???). The Inner Court was where the Emperor worked and lived with his family, eunuchs and maid-servants.

Outside the main gate to the Forbidden City, the Meridian Gate faces a square where imperial corporal punishments were sometimes carried out. To the south of that square stands Tiananmen Gate.

Inside the Forbidden City

At the northern end of the Forbidden City is the imperial garden. It is home to some relatively old trees, most between 100 and 300 years of age.

The Forbidden City is surrounded by royal gardens. To the west lies Zhongnanhai, the complex of buildings centred on two lakes which serves as the central headquarters for the Communist Party of China. To the north-west lies Beihai Park, which also centres on a lake and is a popular park. To the north lies Jingshan Park, also known as Jing Shan or Coal Hill, where the last Ming emperor hanged himself as the rebel army overran his palace.

The individual buildings within the Forbidden City housed many important members of the Chinese aristocracy. The famous national civil service exams were given inside one of these buildings. The royal color was yellow, and that color dominates the rooftops. On each corner of the roofs, there are small statuettes, the number of which designated the power of the person living within the building. The number 9 was reserved for the emperor. Only one building has 10 statuettes at each corner.

Today, Tiananmen Gate in front of the Forbidden City is decorated with a portrait of Mao Zedong in the center and two placards to the left and right. The left placard reads "?????????"(Traditional Chinese: ?????????; pinyin: zhonghuá rénmín gònghéguó wànsuì; "Long Live the People's Republic of China"), while the right placard reads "?????????"(Traditional Chinese: ?????????; pinyin: shìjiè rénmín dà tuánjié wànsuì; "Long live the Great Unity of the World's Peoples"). The phrasing has great symbolic meaning, as the phrase "long live" was traditionally reserved for the Emperors of China, but is now available to the common people. This is also true of the Forbidden City palace itself.

Major Buildings

Meridian Gate
Tiananmen Gate
Gate of Supreme Harmony
Gate of Divine Might
Hall of Supreme Harmony
Palace of Heavenly Purity


The Hall of Supreme Harmony at the centre of the Forbidden City

The site where the Forbidden City stands today was part of the imperial city during the Yuan dynasty. When the Ming Dynasty succeeded it, the first Hongwu Emperor moved the capital to Nanjing and ordered that the Mongol palaces be razed in 1369. His son, Zhu Di, was created Prince of Yan with seat in Beijing. A princely palace was built on the site. In 1402, Zhu Di usurped the throne and became the Yongle Emperor. He moved the capital back to Beijing.

The construction of the Forbidden City started in 1406 and took 14 years and an estimated 200,000 men. The principal axis of the new palace sits to the east of the Yuan Dynasty palace, a design intended to place the Yuan palace in the western or "kill" position in fengshui. Soil excavated during construction of the moat was piled up to the north of the palace to create an artificial hill, the Jingshan hill.

Ming and Qing dynasty
From its 1420 completion to 1644, when a peasant revolt led by Li Zicheng invaded it, the Forbidden City served as the seat of the Ming Dynasty. The following Qing Dynasty also occupied the Forbidden City. In 1860, during the Second Opium War, British forces managed to penetrate to the heart of the Forbidden City and occupied it until the end of the war, being the only foreign power to do so.

After being the home of 24 emperors—fourteen of the Ming Dynasty and ten of the Qing Dynasty—the Forbidden City ceased being the political center of China in 1912 with the abdication of Puyi, the last Emperor of China. Under an agreement signed between the Qing imperial house and the new Republic of China government, Puyi was, however, allowed and, in fact, required to live within the walls of the Forbidden City. Puyi and his family retained the use of the Inner Court, while the Outer Court was handed over to the Republican authorities.

After the revolution
Puyi stayed in the Forbidden City until 1924, when Feng Yuxiang took control of Beijing in a coup. Denouncing the previous agreement with the Qing imperial house, Feng expelled Puyi. Soon after, the Palace Museum was established in the Forbidden City. Having been the imperial palace for some five centuries, the Forbidden City houses numerous rare treasures and curiosities. These were gradually catalogued and put on public display.

However, with the Japanese invasion of China, the safety of these national treasures were cast in doubt, and they were moved out of the Forbidden City. In 1947, after they had been moved from one location to another inside mainland China for many years, Chiang Kai-shek ordered many of the artifacts from the Forbidden City and the National Museum in Nanjing to be moved to Taiwan. These artifacts formed the core of the National Palace Museum in Taipei.

Surviving the Cultural Revolution
During the heat of demolishing the "four olds", Preimer Zhou Enlai got wind of Red Guard's plan to enter the Forbidden City. Knowing what the Red Guard had done to historical sites elsewhere, Zhou ordered to close all gates of the City and sent troops to guard the City. This is perhaps the most neglected episode among the recent times of the Forbidden City.