The Forbidden City, more correctly known today as the Palace Museum,�is the most magnificent imperial palace complex in China and is located in the heart of the city across from Tian'anmen Square. The Palace complex lay at the heart of the original Ming Dynasty plan for Beijing devised by the Yong Le emperor in the fifteenth century, and is still regarded as the central point of the modern capital. In 1987, the Forbidden City was added to the list of UNESCO World Cultural Heritage sites.
The Palace was constructed during the Ming Dynasty: construction spanned over 14 years from 1406 to 1420. Historical records show that it took at least one million workers and 10,000 artisans to build it, using building materials from many parts of China. Heavy items that had to be transported over long distances usually meant creative ways of transportation were invented. For example, wells were dug to pour water on the roads to coat them with ice in the wintertime, making it easier to transport stones.
The Palace served as the residence of 24 Ming and Qing dynasty emperors, and was the political�center of gravity of the entire Chinese empire, housing a vast and privileged retinue of officials, advisors, generals, concubines and eunuchs. The Palace attracted vast riches over the centuries in the form of tribute, and its artistic collections were swelled by thousands of items made in the Palace workshops themselves or purchased for use by the imperial household. In 1912, the imperial era came to an end when the emperor Pu Yi abdicated, but he was permitted to continue living in the northern part of the Forbidden City complex. It was not until 1924 that he was finally expelled from the home of his ancestors. The next year, the Forbidden City was established as the Palace Museum.
A high red wall with a total length of 3,400 meters and a 6m moat protect the complex. The walls served as defensive walls and retaining walls. The complex was built adhering to a traditional north-south axis with the main entrance, the Wu Men, facing the south. Traditionally, the Emperor and his court only used this gate. Today, the complex can be accessed through four gates�- the Median Gate, also known as the Wu Men, north gate, east gate and west gate. Four beautiful watchtowers sit at each corner of the walls, with intricate roofs of golden glazed tiles, red painted walls and grey-white bases.
The Forbidden City is divided into two parts, the southern section of the Outer Court, which was where the emperor exercised his power, and the northern section or the Inner Court, which served as the residence for him and the imperial family. Both courts account for an area of 163,000sqm. These areas were designed according to the architectural hierarchical code to reflect the status and power of the emperor. The court was limited to royal members and the emperor; common people would be prohibited from entering or coming within close proximity of the area. Today, some of the halls have been converted into galleries that exhibit ancient paintings, calligraphy, clocks, bronze wares, pottery and other valuable treasures used by the court. It is estimated that at least 1.5 million articles are protected by the museum.
The symbolic color of the royal family is yellow, hence, it is the dominant color of the palace. Roofs, decorations, bricks and robes were all yellow. However, there were a few exceptions. Most of the buildings have yellow-glazed roofs with the exception of Wenyuange-the royal family's library was topped with a black roof. At that time, black represented water and it was believed that it would prevent potential fires from destroying the library.
Visitors going to the Forbidden City go to see how royalty lived during the empire, but also go to experience four of its major attractions:� the Meridian Gate (Wu Men,), Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihe Dian), Hall of Heavenly Purity (Qingqing Gong,) and Hall of Mental Cultivation (Yangxin Dian,).
The Meridian Gate, Wumen, is the southern entrance of the Forbidden City and has two protruding wings, which form three sides of a square. It was a general belief that Emperors were the Sons of Heaven, and that they should live at the center of the universe. According to this belief, the Meridian Line goes through the Forbidden City, which is how the gate got its name. Wumen is the largest entrance to the Forbidden City; it has five openings and is surrounded by five pavilions, which served as the Imperial entrance. It is also called the Five Phoenix Pavilion because the superstructure is comprised of five pavilions named Wufenglou (The Tower of the Five Phoenixes). It served as a proclamation center for the emperor to make announcements, and housed drums that were beaten to announce the emperor's departure on his bi-annual visits to the Temple of Heaven. Bells were also housed at the tower. Usually, a bell being tolled meant that the royal court was on its way to the Ancestral Temple. If bells and drums were played simultaneously, it meant that the emperor was receiving his ministers at the Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihedian).
Entering the Forbidden City was a ritual of its own. The rules stated that the central arch was exclusively reserved for the emperor. Empresses were granted a one-march ticket; usually, her wedding day. Other days, she had to abide by a strict code of conduct. Other marchers would include the three finalists of the national examination, which was presided over by the emperor. They would be allowed to march through the archway following interviews with the emperor. Ministers used the smaller arch to the east while the royal family used the arch to the west. Officials and eunuchs used the remaining arches.
The emperor would issue the solar calendar on the first day of the 10th lunar month. On this special occasion, the emperor would present food to ministers to mark important days in the solar year. After wars, the Gate was designated for emperors to receive captives. Those that offended the emperor would be whipped on the left side of the Imperial Way, which passed through the central arch. Today, it is a great place to see a panoramic view of the city and visitors can take pictures in traditional imperial robes.
Another major attraction is the Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihe Dian). The largest building in the Forbidden City, it is often called the Hall of the Golden Throne, since it was the hall where emperors would be enthroned. It was built in 1402 but was later burned to the ground. Emperor Kangxi rebuilt the hall in 1695. The hall was used to hold ceremonies including weddings, birthdays and important celebrations.
The Hall, located in the central axis behind the Gate of Supreme Harmony, is built from three levels of marble stone base and stands 27m high. The base is comprised of various balusters decorated with the imperial symbols of phoenixes and dragons. The terrace has a sundial, a balance (symbolizing the unity of the state), a pair of bronze cranes and a pair of tortoises (longevity), and eighteen bronze incense burners. Three stairways lead to the hall - the central stairway is engraved with dragons playing with pearls.
It is believed that the emperor is a reincarnation of the dragon and thus, the hall's interior is symbolically paved with golden bricks and the color yellow dominates the thrones, columns, windows and ceilings. The throne sits on a platform in the north of the hall, with an elegant wall screen behind, and three gilded columns on each side. There are mythical beasts, cranes, and incense burners laid in front of the throne. The ceiling is adorned with a dragon with a pearl in its mouth.
The Hall of Heavenly Purity (Qianqing Gong) is the largest of the three halls in the inner court. In the Ming Dynasty and the earlier period of the Qing Dynasty, it served as the emperor's residence. After the emperor had passed, the hall served as a viewing room. A golden throne sits at the center of the hall. Behind the plaque is a small box, which was used to store a will decreeing who would be the legal heir to the crown. The reigning emperor wrote the will in duplicate, with one hidden by him and the other put behind the plaque. The two copies were compared to check their authenticity and to announce the designated successor.
The Hall of Mental Cultivation (Yangxin Dian) once served as a workshop. Here a variety of articles were manufactured for the imperial family. At one point, it served as the residence hall to Emperor Yongzheng, of the Qing Dynasty. At least seven other emperors also lived here. It is comprised of a separate courtyard and a gate that leads to the Hall of Heavenly Purity. The front hall served as the emperor's study and contains a throne and other furnishings. The east chamber was where Empress Cixi attended to state affairs. The west wing was divided into several chambers where the emperor would read documents, discuss things privately and pray to Buddha.
This study room was the place where Emperor Qianlong placed rare calligraphy treasures.
The Forbidden City is a huge complex, and a visit can be an exhausting experience. If you are in Beijing for a while, consider making several visits rather than seeing everything in a single day. Remember too that it is a Museum, with a lively program of standing and temporary exhibitions; it is worth checking the Palace Museum website for information on displays before visiting.
Admission: From November 1 through March 31, admission is RMB40,
From April 1 through October 31, admission is RMB60.
Opening hrs: Open daily all year.
October 16th-April 15th: 8:30-16:30, Last Entry at 15:30 (including the Clock Gallery and Treasure Gallery)
April 16th-October 15th: 8:30-17:00, Last Entry at 16:00 (including the Clock Gallery and Treasure Gallery)
Audio Guide Device: Available in several languages including Chinese, Cantonese, English, French, Japanese, German, Korean, Russian, Thai, Portuguese, Spanish, Arabic and Italian. It can be rented from the tour guide service at the Meridian Gate (Wumen) and the Gate of Divine Might (Shenwu Men). The cost for renting any version of the device is RMB40 (Chinese and Cantonese are both RMB10), along with a security deposit of RMB100.
Tour Guide Service: Chinese, English and Japanese-speaking tour guides are available.
Bag Check Service: Bags can be deposited free of charge at the Meridian Gate (Wumen) and Gate of Divine Might (Shenwu Men) from 8:30 to 18:00. Wheelchairs & Strollers: Available from the tour guide service at the Meridian Gate (Wumen) and Gate of Divine Might (Shenwu Men), free of charge.
Tourist Service Center is located at the Arrow Pavilion (Jianting).
Pictures:� Traditional Imperial Clothing pictures are available. Rob rental RMB10; Polaroid picture on the throne additional RMB10
Bus routes: No. 124, 810, 812, 814, 846, 855 (Night Bus: No. 202 and 211)
No. 101, 103 and 109 (Trolleybus)
No.1, 4, 20, 52 (get off at East Tian'anmen Bus Stop)
Metro line: 2 (get off at Tian'anmen East or Tian'anmen West)