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Beijing Travel Guide
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The Forbidden City

 
 

Forbidden City
- the world's foremost museums of Chinese art

In the central heart of Beijing, the Forbidden City (Imperial Palace) remained the residence of the emperors for nearly five hundred years, from the 15th century to the early 20th century, and was the actual and symbolic seat of imperial power. Popularly known as the Forbidden City, it was built in the Ming Dynasty between the 4th and the 18th years of the Yongle period (1406 - 1420 AD). Many of the buildings of the Palace have been repaired and rebuilt, but their basic style and layout remain in their original state.


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This magnificent, palatial architectural complex covers an area of over 2,350,000 square feet and contains 9,999 rooms. It is surrounded by ten-foot-high walls which are crowned by four observation towers and flanked by a deep moat. The walls are pierced by four large gates, each with three openings and a broad crowning pavilion.


Forbidden City 2

The layout of the Forbidden City is based on a Chinese cosmic diagram of the universe that clearly defines the north-south and east-west axes. The buildings represent the largest and best-preserved examples of Chinese traditional architecture found today. The overall layout is centered on the three primary Halls of State: The Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihedian), The Hall of Middle Harmony (Zhonghedian) and The Hall of Preserving Harmony (Baohedian). State ceremonies were held in the Outer Court (Wai Chao) of the Forbidden City. Here the emperors governed from their thrones, holding court sessions with their ministers, issuing imperial edicts and initiating military expeditions. The Outer Court was also the site for important ceremonies: the accession of a new emperor to the throne, birthdays and weddings. The Inner Court (Nei Ting) was the residential area of the emperor and the imperial household, as well as the place where the emperor dealt with routine state affairs.


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Forbidden City 6

The Forbidden City was the scene of many significant events affecting the course of Chinese history. Secret World of the Forbidden City: Splendors from China's Imperial Palace explores the objects housed in this important complex, lending insight into the mysteries of the imperial court under the Qing Dynasty, from the entry into the city of Manchurian troops led by Li Sicheng to the pinnacle of artistic creativity under Qianlong to the decline of the dynasty and the abdication of the last Emperor Xuantong in 1912.


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Today, the Forbidden City is one of the world's foremost museums of Chinese art. Its palaces and halls are filled with innumerable works of art and cultural artifacts, including gifts of state, military campaign loot and furnishings and possessions of members of the imperial households. A great number of these treasures represent the peak of artistic and inventive genius exhibited by the countless artisans who worked exclusively for the imperial court.
Nine Dragon Screen

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The Forbidden City

Beijing’s massive Forbidden City was the palace of the emperors during the Ming and the Qing Dynasties. It is located just north of Tiananmen Square in the center of Beijing and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Forbidden CityMany of the buildings today date from the Qing Period as much of the Forbidden City was destroyed by fire and or ransacked during the Ming Period.

The grounds cover approximately 720,000 square meters, or 178 acres, and contain some 800 buildings with 9,999 rooms. Wear comfortable shoes and go slow. The scale of the grounds is overwhelming.

The Forbidden City is a huge rectangle surrounded by a six-meter deep moat and a ten-meter high ochre-colored wall. There are five halls, seventeen palaces, and many, many other buildings and exhibits.

As you enter from the street, you will pass through a gauntlet of soldiers stationed on the bridges that cross the small external moat; then you will pass under the iconic portrait of Chairman Mao (pictured above). It is free to enter this gate.

Here you will run into many people selling various things. Keep walking.

To continue through and past the next gate, you will have to pay. This will bring you into the Outer Court area. Among the highlights of the Outer Court is the Hall of Great Harmony in front of which stands the Gate of Supreme Harmony.

Carrying on, you reach the Inner Court. This area was in the past restricted to the Emperor’s entourage: his family, concubines, and eunuchs. The Palace of Heavenly Purity is the most interesting site in this area.

Forbidden CityThe buildings in the Forbidden City are built on three north-south axes. Those on the middle axis are the most important buildings. This runs from Meridian Gate in the south all the way to the Gate of Divine Might in the north. The western axis has gardens and religious buildings, but much of it is closed. As you get closer to the rear, strolling becomes more comfortable as there are many small courtyards and museum-style exhibits, and things are on a more human scale.

At the far northern end of the Forbidden City is the imperial garden. This is the end of the grounds. You can exit here, or, as many do, loop back on the other side of the grounds and hike back to the main entrance. There is the requisite gift shop and a small place for snacks.

The Forbidden City is now undergoing repairs, the first of which will be completed in time for the Olympics in 2008; the job will be totally done by 2020.

Access

North of Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City is less than one minute from Tianan Men Dong Station.

Details

The Forbidden City is open from 8:30 am – 5:30 pm (4:30 pm in winter). Admission to the Forbidden City costs 40 yuan in the winter, 60 yuan in the summer. Audio tours are available in many languages and cost 40 yuan to rent. Allow at least 2-3 hours to walk the grounds. For disabled, there are ramps in the central part of the grounds. However, much of it is not accessible.

Tel: 6513-2255
Nearest Subway Station Tianan Men Dong Station

 

The Forbidden City

Forbidden City

The Forbidden City, otherwise known as the Palace Museum, is one of the must-see sights in Beijing. With a total of 9999.5 rooms (because only heaven could have 10,000 rooms) and an area of over 720,000 square metres, it was the Imperial residence during the Ming and Qing dynasties.

It is a UNESCO world heritage site, and a powerful national symbol which appears on the official seal of the PRC.

Construction of the Palace began around 1407, during the reign of Yongle, the third Emperor of the Ming dynasty. It is thought that up to a million workers may have been coerced into working on the palace’s construction. It was inhabited by more than 20 Emperors, and during that time built up an incredible collection of treasures and artwork. The palace was burnt to the ground when the Manchus stormed it in 1644, and has been comprehensively looted on several occasions in its history but there’s still plenty to see.

The name ‘forbidden city’ is a translation of one of the Chinese terms for it- 紫禁城- Zīj?nchéng, so called because ordinary folk would be punished by death if they found their way in uninvited. The Forbidden City is also referred to as 故宫 – Gùgōng.

The whole city is surrounded by a moat, and a 10m high red wall with watch towers on each corner. Come along in the morning and you’ll see lots of old Beijingers doing their morning exercises by the moat.

To get to the Palace, head North from Tiananmen Square and under the Mao portrait. Continue for another few hundred metres and you’ll be at the Forbidden City ticket booths. There are audioguides available, or you could employ the services of a guide.

One of the best places for a view of the Forbidden City, and the Beijing cityscape is Jingshan Park (景山公园 J?ngshān Gōngyuán), which is directly North of the Forbidden City. Formerly known as Coal Hill, it is here that the last Ming Emperor Chongzhen is believed to have died. As enemy troops stormed the palace, he fled through a back exit and hung himself from a tree. To get to the park, leave the palace through the rear exit to the North, Shenwumen.

The palace is symmetrical in layout and the main halls and gates of the Forbidden City lie on a North-South axis which runs all the way across Beijing – to Yongdingmen in the South, and Zhonggulou in the North.

The main entrance to the palace is through the South Gate, known as the Meridian Gate (午门 Wu3 Mén), so named because the emperors believed they were at the centre of the universe-on the meridian.

Beyond this is the Gate of Supreme Harmony , and then the largest of the palace’s halls, the Hall of Supreme Harmony. This hall was used for official celebrations, and to receive high officials.

Beyond this are two more halls of the Outer Palace, The Hall of Central Harmony, which served as a study for the Emperor, and the Hall of Preserving Harmony, which had various functions over the years, from the location for official banquets to an Emperor’s walk-in wardrobe.

Next along the North-South axis are the three main halls comprising the Inner Palace, the exclusive domain of the Emperor, his concubines, and the eunuchs who served and advised them. The first is The Hall of Heavenly Purity (the Emperor’s sleeping quarters). Next is The Hall of Union (or of Celestial and Terrestrial Union). The name is a metaphor – for the union of the Emperor and his Empress, and the hall was used by the Empress for official engagements. Finally you arrive in The Hall of Earthly Tranquility

The North gate is called Shenwumen, which means ‘The Gate of Divine Might’ (神武门 Shénwu3 Mén).


 

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