Walking through the Forbidden City of Beijing has always been very high on my wishlist and getting to walk through this Chinese imperial palace while on our China Odyssey was a dream come true. The Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty. For almost 500 years, it served as the home of emperors and their households, as well as the ceremonial and political center of Chinese government.
Built in 1406 to 1420, the complex consists of 980 buildings and covers 720,000 m2. So you need more than a day to be able to explore the whole palace and its surrounding gardens. We spent a whole day exploring the Palace and only saw the most important parts.
We entered the Forbidden City through the East Glorious Gate, walking through the Imperial palace and ending our adventure in the ImperialGarden at the North Gate.
As we entered the city we walked along the central gateway, a stone flagged path that forms the central axis of the Forbidden City and leads all the way from the Gate of China in the south to Jingshan in the north. Only the Emperor was allowed to walk or ride on the Imperial Way, except for the Empress on the occasion of her wedding, so I felt quite royal walking along this path.
Traditionally, the Forbidden City is divided into two parts. The Outer Court which was used for ceremonial purposes. The Inner Court or BackPalace which was the residence of the Emperor and his family, and was used for day-to-day affairs of state.
Entering from the Meridian Gate, we encountered a large square, pierced by the meandering Inner Golden Water River, which is crossed by five bridges.
Behind that is the Hall of Supreme Harmony Square. A three-tiered white marble terrace rises from this square. Three halls stand on top of this terrace, the focus of the palace complex.
From the south, these are the Hall of Supreme Harmony , the Hall of Central Harmony , and the Hall of Preserving Harmony . The Hall of Supreme Harmony is the largest, and rises some 30 metres above the level of the surrounding square. It is the ceremonial centre of imperial power, and the largest surviving wooden structure in China. Set into the ceiling at the centre of the hall is an intricate caisson decorated with a coiled dragon, from the mouth of which issues a chandelier-like set of metal balls, called the “Xuanyuan Mirror”.
Yellow is the color of the Emperor. Thus almost all roofs in the Forbidden City bear yellow glazed tiles.
Behind it, the Hall of Preserving Harmony, was used for rehearsing ceremonies, and was also the site of the final stage of the Imperial examination. All three halls feature imperial thrones, the largest and most elaborate one being that in the Hall of Supreme Harmony.
At the centre of the ramps leading up to the terraces are ceremonial ramps, part of the Imperial Way, featuring elaborate and symbolic bas-relief carvings.
The Inner Court is separated from the Outer Court by an oblong courtyard and was the home of the Emperor and his family. In the Qing Dynasty, the Emperor lived and worked almost exclusively in the Inner Court, with the Outer Court used only for ceremonial purposes.
At the centre of the Inner Court is another set of three halls . From the south, these are the Palace of Heavenly Court, Hall of Union, and the Palace of Earthly Tranquility. Smaller than the Outer Court halls, the three halls of the Inner Court were the official residences of the Emperor and the Empress.
Behind these three halls lies the Imperial Garden. Relatively small, and compact in design, the garden nevertheless contains several elaborate landscaping features.
From 1420 to 1644, the Forbidden City was the seat of the Ming Dynasty. After being the home of 24 emperors – 14 of the Ming Dynasty and 10 of the Qing Dynasty – the Forbidden City ceased being the political centre of China in 1912 with the abdication of Puyi, the last Emperor of China. Under an agreement with the new Republic of China government, Puyi remained in the Inner Court, while the Outer Court was given over to public use, until he was evicted after a coup in 1924.
The Forbidden City was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987, and is listed by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world. I would definitely recommend a visit to this amazing palace!