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.

Recommended tour: 5-Hour Forbidden City Heritage Walk — the in-depth Forbidden City discovery day tour, revealing the life of ancient Chinese emperors.

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:

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