Monday, June 9, 2008

Forbidden City

Forbidden City China

Forbidden City (Zijin Cheng Purple Forbidden City or Gu Gong = old palace), Beijing, China

forbidden city china Imperial Palaces of the Ming and Qing Dynasties in Beijing and Shenyang

forbidden city china Imperial Palaces of the Ming and Qing Dynasties in Beijing and Shenyang

Gu Gong (old palace)

Located in the middle of Beijing the capital of China; this ‘once forbidden city’ remains not just as a mere complex of several palaces but as a symbol of Chinese sovereignty and pride. The image of this city depicted on China’s National Seal itself is ample proof of the importance China attributes to this complex. The Forbidden City is a gigantic complex of palaces that lie spread in 720,000 sq meter area in the western side of the well known Tiananmen Square. For Chinese it is either Zijin Cheng (purple city) or ‘Gu Gong’ meaning old palace.

In the heart of old Beijing (Peking)

This palace complex has world’s largest collection of preserved ancient wooden monuments with finger print of various emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. In 1900 the Ming Emperor Yong Le moved the capital of China to Beijing and he started construction of a fresh city (a walled and secure one; forbidden one for ordinary people) in the middle of old Beijing in 1906. After Yong le 24 generations of emperors resided in this complex and it remained as the center of power of the Chinese Empire for more than five hundred years.

Largest by any means

forbidden city china The northwest corner tower

forbidden city china The northwest corner tower

It is also the largest palace complex in the world and was home to 24 emperors for a span of 5 long centuries. The Forbidden City houses 800 buildings with altogether 9000 rooms and corridors. Each emperor who used to reside has done something in the way of modifications or alterations thereby making his foot print in history. Even the Communist regime has not lagged behind in transforming this ancient palace complex in to a museum of magnificent collection of monuments and adding to its beauty and grandeur to this complex by renovating and beautifying it spending millions.

Intriguing and forbidden and a World Heritage Site

forbidden city china map

Forbidden City China Map

Its unfriendly name the Forbidden City has its origin in the early rule that entry in to it and exit required permission of the highest authority; hence this territory practically remained inaccessible for ordinary mortals. First people called it by that name and as the name got established even authorities called began to mention it as ‘The Forbidden City’! The abundant complexes in this city remained as the most intriguing place for the outside world. At present this palace complex is a World Heritage Site listed by the UNESCO (since 1987) and functions as a Palace Museum; still retaining some of the intrigue with so many articles collected and used by 24 generations of emperors.

China; the land of innovation

China is the third largest country in the world with the largest population and an ancient culture that flourished with the back support of ancient science and wisdom. Gun powder, paper, printing, abacus (the front-runner of computer), mariner’s compass, steel forging, copper, gun-powder, coins, tooth-brush all are just one of the Chinese innovations! They excelled in the construction of large structures like The Great Wall of China, theTemple of Heaven, Yuyuan Garden etc forgotten world wonders like the Porcelain Pagoda of Nanjing (that eventually got destroyed), all were proofs for Chinese skill in innovations. The Forbidden City is built in customary Chinese style and it is in no way less in magnificence and grandeur than these ancient structures Chinese have built.

The city wall

The Nine Dragons Screen in front of the Palace of Tranquil Longevity forbidden city

The Nine Dragons Screen in front of the Palace of Tranquil Longevity forbidden city

This ‘city’ was built to stand any threat; its walls are 7.9 meters high; 8.62 meters wide at the base and 6.6 at the top; built of rammed mud as the core and an outer layer of baked bricks; and the gap filled with mortar. A six meter deep and 52 meter wide moat adds perfection to its invincibility. On the four corners there are observation towers with intricate built roofs; for one who view from outside (so far it could be viewed from outside only; because it was forbidden) these towers were the most visible and prominent sights.


The walls have four gates on each direction of which the most important one is the Meridian Gate (WuMen meaning front door) with a large portrait of Mao Zedong at its top; it is reachable from the Tiananmen Gate (TianMen Gate).

The Meridian Gate (Wu Feng Lou meaning Five Phoenix Tower) is on the south which is the largest gate of this complex. It is 35.6 meters high and has five openings surrounded by phoenix looking pavilions (five is a sacred number for the Chinese as the Confucian teachings are based of five principles).

Of the five openings the central one was exclusively reserved for the emperor; the empress was allowed only once in her life time immediately after her wedding! The eastern entrance was exclusively and strictly for the ministers whereas the western entrance for the royal family. Other two were for officials and none for the ordinary people because they were forbidden in the Forbidden City!

Other Gates

The other gates that pierce the outer wall are namely the

Gate of the Devine Might on the north, East Glorious Gate on the east and West Glorious Gate on the west. All these gates have doors with golden nails to add grandeur. The Northern Glorious Gate faces the Jingshen Park. The whole city within the walls can be divided in to two as the Outer Court and the Inner Court. The naming of the structures of this complex is done in a poetic way and they can ring bell in to the ears of one who hear it.

The Gate of Supreme Harmony (TaiHe Men) that is located after the Meridian Gate and the following five bridges leads to the proper Outer Court which consists of three main halls located on a raised white marble platform. Across another courtyard is the Hall of Supreme Harmony (TaiHe Dian) which is the largest courtyard in the Forbidden City as well as the largest surviving wooden structure in China. It has a height of 30 meters and an area of 30,000 sq meters; this hall was used as the Ceremonial Center of the Imperial like coronations, investiture and royal weddings.

The next one is the Hall of Preserving Harmony (a slightly smaller structure was the rehearsing center for the ceremonial parades).

Forbidden city china The Hall of Central Harmony (foreground) and the Hall of Preserving Harmony

Forbidden city china The Hall of Central Harmony (foreground) and the Hall of Preserving Harmony

The Hall of Central Harmony (Hall of Complete Harmony) is comparatively smaller and was intended for the emperor to take rest before and between ceremonies. There is a beautiful throne with Unicorns (Luduan a Chinese mythological beast that could travel 9000 miles a day and that could speak 9000 languages) placed on both sides as a mark of the abilities of the emperor. Also on display are two exquisite sedan chairs in which the emperor was made to sit and was carried around the city. In the southeastern part of the Outer Court are theHalls of military Eminence (where the emperor held court of ministers) and the Hall of Literary (the royal press as well as venue for ceremonial lectures held by Confucian Scholars of high esteem).

The giant ramp

There are ramps flanked by stairs to ascend and descend the raised marble platform; these ramps are real works of art depicting dragons, emperors and other images; the emperor makes his ascend sitting in his sedan. At the center of the ramps leading to the terraces are the ceremonial ramps with carvings of symbolic bas reliefs; of which that behind the Hall of Preserving Harmony there is the largest carving in China a monolith ramp weighing 200 tons that is 16.57 meters long 3.07 meters wide and 1.7 meters thick; a real ceremonial ramp indeed!

The Inner Court; Yin, Yang and the holy union

The Forbidden City as depicted in a Ming Dynasty painting

The Forbidden City as depicted in a Ming Dynasty painting

While the Outer Court was intended for royal ceremonies the Inner Court; which has been separated from it by a long courtyard was more private in its function. There are three halls namely Palace of Heavenly Purity, Hall of Earthly Tranquility and Hall of Union.

Holy Unions

Here emperor is ‘yang’ representing the heavenly purity; living in the Palace of Heavenly Purity; whereas the empress is ‘Yin’ representing the earthly tranquility living in Hall of Earthly Tranquility.

The Hall of Celestial and Terrestrial Union (Diao TaiDian) is the place where the empress receives her birthday greeting. It is intended for the auspicious marital life of royal couple.

On the left side of the throne there is a chime clock that is 210 years old and still working smooth and in the right side a water-pot clock older than the chime clock with a technology more than 25 centuries old. Both of these items are enough to herald the expertise of Chinese skill in innovation. Many items belonging to the Qing dynasty are on display like the imperial seals other ceremonial items.

The Imperial Garden

The Gate of Terrestrial Tranquility (KunNing Men) leads the visitor to the Imperial Garden (YuHua Yuan); it is the last spectacle to be seen in the city. It was a private space for the royal families and was built in 1417 by the Ming dynasties. This garden is not as elaborate as one may presume (12,000 sq meters in area) but there are very beautiful landscapes made in typical Chinese style to be seen.

The selling point

The selling point of the Forbidden City is its well preserved condition and the largesse of the items displayed in it more over the buildings, courtyards, and ramps all are made in such large scale that visitors never feel crowded like other palaces.

There is enough space for every body for sight seeing and for taking some rest in a shade. The woodworks are such that they smell fresh and brand new even after standing there for the last several centuries.

The ‘Un forbidden’ City

The throne in the Palace of Heavenly Purity forbidden city china

The throne in the Palace of Heavenly Purity forbidden city china

After all it is no small thing to see the works and royal possessions belonged to 24 generations of monarchs who lived under one roof a very rare thing that no other palaces can take claim of. Come to the hospitable palace complex (please excuse for an inhospitable name; the Forbidden City) and smell a rich history of a rich and innovative nation.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've always wanted to go to China, i reckon there're many hidden treasures!