Famous Ancient Chinese Buildings

the forbidden cityThe Forbidden City

Imperial Palaces

Imperial Palaces were originally built to showcase the extravagant lifestyles of the emperors, as well as to provide a centralized location for demonstrating imperial political control. The imperial palaces were built on a grand scale, sparing no expense to display the majesty and dignity of the imperial power of the time.

Each successive emperor contributed grandeur to the structures, and today, these palaces stand for all to enjoy. Each imperial palace is a testament to the history and glory of Chinese culture. These glorious structures clearly demonstrate the creative essence and imperial traditions of the Chinese people.

The Imperial Palace, Beijing

The Imperial Palace in Beijing, also known as the Forbidden City, is located in the center of the city of Beijing. The largest ancient palatial architecture in the world is now home to the Palace Museum. Built between 1406 to 1420, the Imperial Palace is a complex composed of 980 preserved ancient wood and stone buildings. The Palace Museum houses and displays artwork, treasures and collectibles from the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) Dynasties.

Shenyang Imperial Palace

The Shenyang Imperial Palace, also known as Mukden Palace, was initially constructed in 1625, prior to the establishment of the Qing Dynasty. Now home to Shenyang Imperial Palace Museum, the palace served as the political capitol of the Qing Dynasty, prior to the move of central power to Beijing. With 300 rooms and 20 courtyards, Shenyang Imperial Palace is a sight to behold.

Altars and Temples

temple of heavenTemple of Heaven
Altars and temples are important components of Chinese culture. They provided ceremonial sites for offering prayers and sacrifices to heaven. Sacrifices were also offered to the moon, the sun, the earth, the mountains, scholars and ancestors.

The Temple of Heaven was where emperors undertook an annual pilgrimage to during the winter solstice to pray to heaven for a good harvest for the following year.


Mausoleums are a very important aspect of Chinese culture and architecture. Ancient peoples believe that the spirit lived on after the body passed away. Therefore, elaborate mausoleums were built to honor those who had moved on to the other dimension.

Many mausoleums display beautiful and elaborate artwork, carvings, and calligraphy. The standard design of the Chinese mausoleum includes walls around the structure, four open doors facing in each direction, and four turrets, one on each corner.

qianling museumQian Mausoleum

Located according to fengshui, mausoleums are commonly found on or by mountains. However, where mountains are lacking, they are found on flatlands and plains as well. Distinguishing characteristics of mausoleums include a path leading up to the structure, and statues of humans and beasts on either side of the walkway. Trees are often part of the landscaping around the mausoleum to create a quiet and solemn atmosphere.

China's most famous mausoleums:

City Walls

ancient city wallAncient City Wall

Many Chinese cities are surrounded by a set of walls. The inner wall is termed the cheng and the outer wall is the guo. The term chengguo is used to describe the entirety of the ancient city walls. Moats often surrounded the walls and these moats were termed chi. The inner city was named the geng.

Within the walls surrounding the city were gates. At least 2 or 3 gates, with towers over the gates, opened up to the outside world. Large cities offered more gates. For example, the walls surrounding Beijing contained 9 gates during the Ming and Qing Dynasties.

At each of the four corners of the wall, watch towers were constructed. The mamian was a set of ramps that extended out from the wall. The mamian provided access for cavalry, horses, and wheeled transport entering or exiting the city.

China's most famous city walls:

The Nanjing Ancient City Wall

Nanjing Ancient City Wall was constructed during the years of the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644). Fourteen meters wide at the base, and between 14 and 21 meters high, this wall is one of the most elaborate of all of the city walls. The wall contains beautiful and spectacular city gates including the Juoba Gate, the Tongji Gate and the Sanshan Gate.

The Great Wall of China, while not a city wall shares a similar architecture.

big wild goose pagodaBig Wild Goose Pagoda


Pagodas are actually native to India. These octagonal towers were introduced to China along with the introduction and integration of Buddhism. The design of the traditional Indian pagoda changed as the structure was integrated into Chinese culture.

Some of China's most notable pagodas include:

Related Reading

Hi, I'm Ruru Zhou
I updated this article on March 13, 2014
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Questions and Answers About Famous Ancient Chinese Buildings

jamie 2013-03-04
Show Answer
did ancient china import building materials for the great wall ?

Hi Jamie, no they didn't. All the building materials were domestic.

Whitney Liao replied on 2013-03-04
emiluy 2013-02-18
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nanoville is it fun there what are some fun places to fisit and are there some fun activities and how long would u recamend staying there

Hi Emiluy, what kind of fun are you looking for, please?

Whitney Liao replied on 2013-02-19
Candy Varela 2012-09-17
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Are there any other important monuements made during the ancient china era? Like BC times not AD. Thank you!
Hi Candy, There are lots of buidlings on the silk road are built in BC times, like Jiaohe Ruin, Gaochang Ruins. You could see more here: http://www.chinahighlights.com/turpan/attraction/ Regards, Coco Coco Yang replied on 2012-09-17
martn johnson 2011-06-13
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5 important buildings,describe a subwaysystem,train line, airport, or seaport.what are the main forms of transportation.list three major exports and how is each exported. list three major imports of the country and how is each imported
Hello. In Beijing, if you want to visit the Forbidden City, it is right behind the Tian'anmen Tower, which is the center of Beijing city. For other places, going by a taxi or subway is very convenient. The seaports usually combine exports with imports. The major exporting products of China include electronic products and fabrics. Mia Yang replied on 2011-06-21
T.Y. 2011-02-24
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what is the Shenyang Imperial Palace in chinese?
Hi, Shenyang Imperial Palace is 沈阳故宫. It is located in No.171 Shenyang Road, Shenhe District, bordering on busy Middle Street.It is the most ancient imperial architectural complex of Qing Dynasty in the country next only to the Forbidden City in Beijing in historical and art value. This is Shenyang tour on our website for your reference. http://www.chinahighlights.com/shenyang/tours.htm Lussie Lu replied on 2011-02-24
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