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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrServing as the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming dynasty until the end of the Qing dynasty, the Forbidden City sits prominently in the center of Beijing. Built between 1406 and 1420 to house emperors and serve as the Chinese Government’s political heart for around 500 years, it was opened to the public in 1925 as the Palace Museum. Its English name translates from the Chinese ‘Zijin Cheng’ which literally means ‘Purple Forbidden City’ with the ‘purple’ referring to the heavenly abode of he Celestial Emperor, the North Star. The Forbidden City was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, recognized as housing the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures to be found anywhere in the world.
ConstructionThe palace was initiated by the Yongle Emperor , Zhu Di who moved the capital from Nanjing to Beijing. Using Phoebe zhennan wood from the south-western jungles, marble from nearby quarries, and paving bricks from Suzhou, it is believed to have required more than a million workers over its 14 year construction period.
There are more than 8,700 rooms in the complex, exhibiting ornate painted decorations and typical architecture of the period, most impressively in the grand and deluxe halls. Yellow is the dominant color, symbolic of the royal family, with roofs built with yellow-glazed tiles and yellow decorations adorning the palace. The exception is the royal library which is fitted with a black roof, the color of water, which was believed could extinguish a fire if the situation arose.
HistoryBetween 1420 and 1644 the Forbidden City was the imperial palace of the Ming dynasty, before the Manchus rose to power in the north of China and the Forbidden City came under the reign of Emperor Shunzhi and the Qing dynasty. Notable changes included a greater emphasis in the architecture on ‘harmony’ rather than the Ming ‘supremacy’, the introduction of Shamanist elements, and name plates in both Chinese and Manchu.
During the Second Opium War beginning in 1856 Anglo-French forces occupied the Forbidden City until 1860, and when the last Emperor of China was abdicated in 1912, it ceased to function as China’s political heart. In 1925, the Palace Museum was established, although some of its most prized collection was evacuated during the Japanese invasion in World War II and now forms part of the National Palace Museum in Taipei.
Parts of the Forbidden City were destroyed following the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, although Premier Zhou Enlai ordered the city to be guarded during the Cultural Revolution to prevent any further destruction.
Since its 1987 UNESCO World Heritage listing, the Palace Museum is in the process of a huge restoration project to restore all buildings within the site to their pre-1912 condition.
Visiting the Forbidden CityThe Palace Museum of the Forbidden City sits to the north of Tiananmen Square and is enclosed in an imposing red city wall constructed from bricks made from white lime and glutinous rice. It is eight meters wide at its base, tapering to 6.66 meters at the top, making it incredibly difficult to climb. In addition, this 74 hectare complex is surrounded by a 52 meter-wide moat and flanked by impressive gates.The city is divided into two main parts - the southern section or Outer Court where the emperor exerted his power over the nation, and the northern section or Inner Court where he resided with his royal family.
The focus of the palace complex is the three-tiered, white marble terrace which rises from a large square upon entering through the Meridian Gate. On top of this terrace stand three halls - the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the Hall of Central Harmony, and the Hall of Preserving Harmony. The largest of these is the Hall of Supreme Harmony, China’s largest surviving wooden structure and the former ceremonial center of imperial power. It features an intricate caisson exhibiting a coiled dragon, together with a stunning imperial throne. The buildings which surround this hall served rehearsal or preparation purposes, as well as hosting the final stage of the imperial examination.
The importance of religion in the imperial court is reflected in Taoist shrines within the complex, one in the imperial garden and one in the center of the Inner Court, as well as Buddhist temples and shrines, such as the Pavilion of the Rain of Flowers, home to a number of Buddhist statues and icons.
On three sides the Forbidden City is surrounded by imperial gardens - Jingshan Park to the north, Zhongnanhai to the west, and Beihai to the north-west - which feature lakes and landscaped parks. Zhongnanhai is now home to the central headquarters for the Communist Party of China, as well as the State Council of the People’s Republic of China.
Allow around half a day to explore the complex’s major sights, or longer if you want to get a more in-depth understanding of the Forbidden City and its history. The Palace Museum is served by subway stations at Tiananmen West, Tiananmen East, or Qianmen, and numerous bus lines stop on or around Tiananmen Square are within an easy walk.
The Palace Museum is open daily (except Mondays) from around 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m., depending on the season. It has extended hours during the peak tourist Summer holidays of July 1 to August 31 when domestic crowds descend and it can get uncomfortably busy. There are, however, plans to enforce a limited number of 80,000 tickets per day to try and reduce tourist numbers during this period and improve the visiting experience.
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Author: Pip Strickland. Last updated: Apr 01, 2015