The Forbidden City
The Forbidden City is situated in the heart of Beijing. They correlated the emperor's abode, which they considered the pivot of the terrestrial world, with the Pole Star (Ziwei Palace)—believed to be the center of the heavens. Because of its centrality and restricted access, the palace was called the Forbidden City. It was built from 1406 to 1420 by the third emperor of the Ming dynasty, the Yongle Emperor (1403-1420) who, upon usurping the throne, determined to move his capital northward from Nanjing to Beijing. Over 200 years later, the Ming dynasty fell to the Manchu Qing dynasty in 1644. Then, in 1911, the Qing were subsequently overthrown by republican revolutionaries. The last emperor, Puyi (who ruled from 1908 to 1911 under the reign name Xuantong), continued to live in the palace after his abdication until he was expelled in 1924. During nearly six hundred years of imperial operation, the palace served as the residence and court of twenty-four emperors. The magnificent architectural complex, also known as the Forbidden City, and the vast holdings of paintings, calligraphy, ceramics, and antiquities of the imperial collections make it one of the most prestigious museums in China and the world. In 1961, the State Council designated the former imperial residence as one of China's foremost-protected cultural heritage sites, and in 1987 it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Forbidden City is surrounded by 10-metre-high walls and a 52-metre-wide moat. Measuring 961 meters from north to south and 753 meters from east to west, the complex covers an area of 1,120,000 square meters. Each side of the rectangular city has a gate. These four gates are the Meridian Gate (Wu men) on the south, the Gate of Divine Prowess (Shenwu men) on the north, and the East and West Prosperity Gates (Donghua men and Xihua men), respectively. Entering from the south, visitors will see a succession of halls and palaces spreading out on either side of the central axis. The glowing yellow roofs of the stately buildings seem to levitate above the vermilion walls. This magnificent sight is amplified by the painted ridges and carved beams of the ancient structures.
Known as the Outer Court, the southern portion of the Forbidden City features three main halls – the Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihe dian), Hall of Central Harmony (Zhonghe dian), and Hall of Preserving Harmony (Baohe dian). These three halls are flanked by the Belvedere of Embodying Benevolence (Tiren ge) and Belvedere of Spreading Righteousness (Hongyi ge). The Outer Court was the venue for the emperor’s court and grand audiences.
Mirroring this arrangement is the Inner Court, which is the northern portion of the Forbidden City. The Palace of Heavenly Purity (Qianqing gong), Hall of Union (Jiaotai dian), and Palace of Earthly Tranquility (Kunning gong) lie upon the central axis. The Six Eastern Palaces and the Six Western Palaces are private imperial residences found on their respective sides of the main axis. Other major buildings in the Inner Court include the Hall for Abstinence (Zhai gong) and Hall of Sincere Solemnity (Chengsu dian) in the east and the Hall of Mental Cultivation (Yangxin dian), Belvedere of Raining Flowers (Yuhua ge), and Palace of Compassion and Tranquility (Cining gong) in the west. The Inner Court is not only comprised of the residences of the emperor and his consorts but also venues for religious rituals and administrative activities. The far north end of the Inner Court is the Imperial Garden.