The Forbidden City

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The Forbidden City is:

  • the best-preserved imperial palace in China,
  • the largest ancient palatial structure in the world, and
  • the essence and culmination of traditional Chinese architectural accomplishment.

International Recognition

  • In 1961 the Forbidden City was listed as an important historical monument under Chinese central government special preservation.
  • In 1987, it was nominated as World Cultural Heritage by UNESCO. The Palace Museum is a treasure house of Chinese cultural and historical relics.
  • It is recognized as one of the most important five palaces in the world (the other four are the Palace of Versailles in France, Buckingham Palace in the UK, the White House in the US, and the Kremlin in Russia).

History

The Forbidden City, situated in the very heart of Beijing, was home to 24 emperors of the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) Dynasties.

The construction of the grand palace started in the fourth year of Emperor Yongle of the Ming Dynasty (1406), and ended in 1420.

In ancient times, the emperor was said to be a son of Heaven, and therefore Heaven’s supreme power was bestowed upon him. The emperors’ residence on earth was built as a replica of the Purple Palace where God was thought to live in Heaven.

Names: Such a divine place was certainly forbidden to ordinary people and that is why the Forbidden City is so named. Originally called Zijin Cheng ('Purple Forbidden City'), in China now it is usually called Gugong (故宫 /goo-gong), the 'Former/Old Palace'.

Features

the Forbidden City the main hall of the Forbidden City

To represent the supreme power of the emperor given from God, and the place where he lived being the center of the world, all the gates, palace and other structures of the Forbidden City were arranged about the north-south central axis of old Beijing.

For security the Forbidden City is enclosed by a 10-meter-high defensive wall, which has a circumference of 3, 430 meters. At each corner of the Forbidden City, there stands a magnificent watchtower, which was heavily guarded in the past. Around the city there is a moat as the first line of defense. See our Forbidden City Map.

The Forbidden City covers an area of about 72 hectares (178 acres) with a total floor space of approximately 150,000 square meters (1,600,000 square feet). It consists of 90 palaces and courtyards, 980 buildings and 8,704 rooms.

A Typical Forbidden City Guided Tour

Any tour of Beijing would be incomplete without a visit to the Forbidden City. See the range of tours offered at China Highlights.

Entrance

Most travelers enter the Forbidden City through Tian'anmen, the Gate of Heavenly Peace. Through the gate, across an expansive brick-paved square, you will reach the main entrance to the palace, Meridian Gate (Wumen in Chinese).

Meridian Gate was the place where the Emperor announced the new lunar calendar on the winter solstice.  Enter through Meridian Gate, and go across Golden Stream Bridge, then you will arrive at the outer court. The Forbidden City falls into two parts: the outer court and the inner palaces.

the Forbidden City The Qianqing Hall in the Forbidden City

The Outer Court

The outer court is made up of three main buildings, the Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihedian), the Hall of Central Harmony (Zhonghedian) and the Hall of Preserving Harmony (Baohedian). These halls were where the emperors attended the grand ceremonies and conducted state affairs.

The first hall waiting for you is the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the most important and largest structure in the Forbidden City. The emperors' Dragon Throne (Longyi) is in this hall.

Behind the Hall of Supreme Harmony is the Hall of Central Harmony (Zhonghedian), the resting place of the emperor before presiding over grand events held in the Hall of Supreme Harmony. Emperors would rehearse their speeches and presentations here before departing to the Temple of Heaven for the sacrifice rites.

The last hall is the Hall of the Preserving Harmony used for banquets and later for imperial examinations.

There are a couple of side gardens with interesting halls to explore. Please consult with your local guide if you want to visit them. It will take more time to walk around the palace.

Out from the Hall of the Preserving Harmony, you will notice a huge block of marble carved with cloud and dragon designs. Go straight, and you will see another gate, called the Gate of Heavenly Peace (Qianqingmen). This is the main gateway to the inner living court.

The Inner Court

The Palace of Terrestrial Tranquility (Kunninggong) in the Forbidden City.

The inner court is composed of the three main structures at the rear of the Forbidden City, namely the Palace of Heavenly Peace (Qianqinggong), the Palace of Union and Peace (Jiaotaidian) and the Palace of Terrestrial Tranquility (Kunninggong).

The first structure inside the inner court is the Palace of Heavenly Peace, the emperors' sleeping quarters. Behind it is the Palace of Union and Peace, where the imperial seals were stored. The third hall is the Hall of Terrestrial Tranquility, the emperors' wedding room.

Besides the three main buildings there are the six eastern palaces and six western palaces, where the emperor used to handle everyday affairs, and which was the living quarters of the emperor, expresses and concubines. Those palaces have been converted into exhibition halls, where a spectacular set of imperial collections is displayed.

Exiting and going further north, travelers will find the Imperial Garden. The garden offers an aesthetic change from the crimson and gray building complex to a colorful and luxuriant atmosphere.

On the left side of the inner court, travelers will find the Mental Cultivation Hall (Yangxindian), the most important building except for the Hall of Supreme Harmony. From the time of the third emperor, Yongzheng, all the Qing emperors, 8 in total resided in this hall.

Exit

The main exit gate of the Forbidden City is the Gate of Divine Might, behind the Imperial Garden.

Recommended Tours

Note: From January 1st, 2014, the Forbidden City will be closed to the public every Monday (except the public holidays and July 1 – August 31) for renovation and maintenance.

Questions and Answers About The Forbidden City

javaid khan 2013-03-03
Show Answer
I am in Beijing next week.Please tell me where can I find MUSLIM HALAL FOOD.

Hi Javaid, here is one for you.

Avanti Rrestaurant 阿凡提餐厅

Add: No.2(Jia) Houguaibang Hutong, 188# Chaoyangmen Inner Street, Dongcheng District.

 

东城区朝阳门街188号后拐棒胡同甲2

Whitney Liao replied on 2013-03-05
Jane 2013-02-22
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How long would i have to stay in Beijing if i wanted to go visit Great Wall, Tiananmen Square n Forbidden City, Summer Palace? How much would it cost in Chinese money to go to these places?
Dear Jane, Based on your itinerary, you could have a two-day tour. The cost is based on the number of the tourist in your group, whick kind of hotel you will stay. I've sent an e-mail to you and gave you some details for reference. If you have any other inuqiries, please feel free to let me know, it is flexible to revise it. Lussie Lu replied on 2013-02-24
Evan 2013-01-31
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Heya i just booked a trip and i just wanted to say that you guys and gals are amazing at your job, you rock
Hi Evan, thanks for your kind comments. We will keep moving and improving to serve all our customers and help them bring back home a beautiful memory about China and her people. Whitney Liao replied on 2013-01-31
Liz 2013-01-02
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Where can I find maps of cities and top attraction maps in English and Chinese? I want the English and Chinese on same map. I have already booked a trip with your company at the end of May.
Hi Liz, you could find this kind of book in local book store or you could buy it online, such as: A Handbook For Travel Across China (a English-Chinese bilingual). Lily Lee replied on 2013-01-03
Aaron 2012-09-10
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What exactly is the Hall of Harmony? I''ve searched and read up, but it''s seeming to confuse me.
Hi Aaron, there are 3 Halls of Harmony, i.e. the Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihedian), the Hall of Central Harmony (Zhonghedian) and the Hall of Preserving Harmony (Baohedian). These halls were where the emperors attended grand ceremonies and conducted state affairs. Please see details here: http://www.chinahighlights.com/beijing/forbidden-city/ Whitney Liao replied on 2012-09-11
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I updated this article on April 10, 2014
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