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Opening time: 08:30 - 17:00 (Apr 1 - Oct 31, tickets not available after 16:00, last entry at 16:10)
08:30 - 16:30 (Nov 1 - Mar 31, tickets not available after 15:30, last entry at 15:40)
How to get to The Forbidden City:
- Subway: Line 1 (Tiananmen Xi (West) or Tiananmen Dong (East) Stations); Line 2 (Qianmen Station)
- Bus: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 52, 120 and 802 (Tiananmen Xi (West) or Tiananmen Dong (East) Stations; 9, 17, 44, 48, 59, 66, 803, 808 (Qianmen, Qianmen Xi, or Qianmen Dong Stations); 101, 103, 109, 124, 202, 685 and 814 (Gugong (Forbidden City) Station)
Best time for visit: all year long, special interest in March-June and August-November periods, avoid weekends and national holidays for more quietness.
Recommended time for a visit: 3-4 hours
The Emperors' dwelling / Imperial Palace
As China's symbol world-wide like the Great Wall or the Temple of Heaven, the Forbidden City (called "Gu Gong", "故宫"in Chinese, literally meaning "Old Palace") is the most important masterpiece of Chinese history and culture. This real Imperial Palace Museum was for centuries the imperial place for 24 emperors starting from the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644). Believed as Sons of the Heaven, emperors and their families were the only ones allowed to enter the place as the complex had been created according to ancient Chinese astronomy establishing that emperors should live at the center of Heaven: the "Purple Star" (Polaris). Called the "Purple Forbidden City" in ancient times the site took naturally its name of the "Forbidden City" for ordinary people were not allowed to enter such a divine place. The Forbidden City is the perfect place where some millions of preserved historical relics have been collected, displayed in a site that has kept its original splendid architecture for the pleasure of millions of tourists visiting the old city every year.
History around the Forbidden City
Together with its awe-inspiring architecture comes the impressive historical richness hiding behind the walls of the Forbidden City. During over 5 centuries, the Imperial Forbidden City has been home to 24 Emperors: 14 during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) and 10 during the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911). This was in 1406 that the construction of the "Emperor's Palace" started under the request of Emperor Yongle (Ming Dynasty). During 14 years, million of workers and thousands of artisans worked hard in the conception of such a building. The stone used in the construction were the one of the nearby Mount Fang (房山Fang Shan) that were carried pieces after pieces to the city. This is even said that some bricks were made from a combination of white lime and glutinous rice!
As incredible as it can be, these materials ended to be particularly strong for there are still standing today in the capital. Finished in 1420, the Forbidden City started to become the headquarter of China for the capital city of the country moved there from Nanjing. Wartimes, historical events and dynasties' shifts made hard damages to the holly city that was burnt down, rebuilt, sacked and renovated a countless of times. Thus, most of the architecture which can be admired today by tourists traces back to the 1700s onwards. Previously being a site where only emperors were authorized to reside with their imperial family and concubines, the fall of the last emperor of China in 1912 changed the destiny of the city that started to be opened to public and tourists. Recognized by the Chinese central government in 1961 for its important role in China's history, the Forbidden City became progressively a major tourist attraction. The nomination to UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in 1987 paid a large tribute to this ancient Chinese and human masterpiece that has succeeded in resisting Dynasties, wars, modern times and tourists' continuous visits.
Features of the Forbidden City
Representing the world's largest complex still preserved from human activity, the Forbidden City is a jewel of China's history and culture, representing the Emperor's supreme power given from the Heaven. Being the center of China for centuries, the Forbidden City's architecture was not left to chance as this was supposed to represent the city in the Heaven. The rectangular complex covers an area of 74 hectares (183 acres) and over 150,000 square meters (1,600,000 square feet). It consists of 90 palaces and courtyards, 980 buildings and 8,704 rooms, visitors are able to visit most of the halls and rooms though some of them are kept secret. Every single aspect of the houses is a treasure and curiosity in itself so that it takes a long way to visit everything in a day.
As any ancient city in China or in the world, the Forbidden City is surrounded by a huge city wall: 10-meter-high, 52-meter-wide and representing a total circumference of 3, 430 meters. The 4 city gates located on each side of the city wall have all their function: the Gate of Divine Might (神武门Shen Wu Men, for daily exit and entry of the servants) on the north, the Meridian Gate (午门Wu Men, the main entrance as well as the exact place where emperors announced the new lunar calendar on the winter solstice and other important event. No one else but emperors could walk through it except empresses entering it on the day they married emperors, and the top three examinees of the annual final imperial exams walking out of it for one time) on the south, the Eastern Flowery Gate (东华门Dong Hua Men, ministers entered it to attend the daily morning levee) on the east, and the Western Flowery Gate (西华门Xi Hua Men, coffins of emperors were carted through this gate) on the west. The north and south gates are at a distance of 961 meters, while the west and east ones at 753 meters away. On top of that, the four corners of the City are composed of watchtowers which were guarded in the past by imperial soldiers and officers to assure security to His Majesty.
Different than any other building of China, the Forbidden City is inspiring respect and marvel to its visitors who have the opportunity to feel the impressive historical events that occurred there hundreds of years ago. Some particularities of the City are the typical yellow roofs that symbolizes in China the Royal Family hence its predominance all over the site except for one building that displays a black colored roof. Called Pavilion of Literary Profundity (文渊阁Wen Yuan Ge), the building is in fact the Royal Library: the black color in ancient Chinese symbolism was supposed to represent water, thus extinguishing any possible fire in the building. By visiting the Forbidden City, no one can deny the considerable skills that artisans and workers had already during ancient times in building outstanding and large-scale places. Indeed, as grandiose as it stands, the Forbidden City is today listed as one of the five most important palaces in the world (together with the Palace of Versailles of France, Buckingham Palace of UK, the White House of USA and the Kremlin of Russia).
The Forbidden City in depth
In order to understand the general disposition of the mighty Beijing Forbidden City, this section is going to describe the site in depth for preparing your visit. You could also consult our different Forbidden City Maps for more information!
The Forbidden City is divided into 2 different parts: the southern section (or Outer Court) and the northern section (or Inner court).
The Outer Court
The Outer Court is the southern section of the Forbidden City. This section is where the Emperor exercised his power over the nation by attending ceremonies and conducting state affairs. The Outer Court is composed of 3 main buildings:
- The Hall of Supreme Harmony (太和殿Tai He Dian)
- The Hall of Central Harmony (中和殿Zhong He Dian)
- The Hall of Preserving Harmony (保和殿Bao Be Dian)
A couple of side gardens doted with interesting halls are also there for the pleasure of visitors.
Out of the 3 buildings, the Hall of Supreme Harmony is the most important and largest one where stands what visitors are most enthusiast into seeing: the Emperor Dragon Throne (龙椅Long Yi). The Hall of Central Harmony located behind is the usual resting and rehearsing place of emperors prior to presiding over grand events. Events were indeed usually held in that hall. Finally, the Hall of the Preserving Harmony was the building used for holding banquets and imperial examinations. Standing straight out of that building, the Gate of Heavenly Peace (乾清门Qian Qing Men) is welcoming visitors as it is the main gateway to the Inner Court of the Forbidden City.
The Inner Court
The Inner Court is the northern section of the Forbidden City. This Court was where the Emperor and his Royal Family and concubines lived, His Majesty handled everyday affairs and the country's future. That section is composed of 3 main structures:
- The Palace of Heavenly Purity (乾清宫Qian Qing Gong)
- The Palace of Union and Peace (交泰殿Jiao Tai Dian)
- The Palace of Terrestrial Tranquility (坤宁宫Kun Ning Gong)
Beside them, 12 more palaces stand: 6 on the eastern side, 6 on the western side. These were the residences of the emperors' concubines converted today into exhibition halls.
The Palace of Heavenly Purity is the first structure encountered. As emperors' bedchambers, the palace is mainly filled with common but luxurious house cupboards and relics of the royal family. The Palace of Union and Peace is where all the imperial seals were stored. Finally, the Palace of Terrestrial Tranquility is the ancient emperor's wedding room.
Visitors continuing the visit a little bit further north will discover the Imperial Garden, offering a great and relaxing aesthetic twist after the visit of old rocks.
By finishing the visit in the Inner Court, visitors can conveniently exit the site of the Forbidden City by the Gate of Divine Might (神武门Shen Wu Men), located straight behind the Imperial Garden.
Forbidden City travel tips
To make your visit of the Forbidden City more convenient, here are some travel tips dedicated to the site.
- Tourist Service Center: Located at the Arrow Pavilion (箭亭Jian Ting)
- Audio Guide: to rent from the Tour Guide Service at the Meridian Gate (午门Wu Men) or at the Gate of Divine Might (神武门Shen Wu Men) for 40 RMB (10 RMB for Chinese mandarin and Cantonese languages), deposit: 100 RMB.
- Languages available: English, French, German, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, Arabic, Russian, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Chinese and Cantonese.
- Bag Check Service: a deposit is available (free of charge) at the Meridian Gate (Wu Men) and at the Gate of Divine Might (Shen Wu Men) (08:30-18:00). A service of carrying bags from one gate to another is also available.
- Wheelchairs & Strollers: at the Tour Guide Service, Meridian Gate (Wu Men) and Gate of Divine Might (Shen Wu Men), free of charge.
- Special Notes: during high seasons (May Day, National Day Holiday (October 1st -7th) and summer holiday) a limited number of 80,000 visitors/day is allowed (half and half groups and individual visitors).
What to see in the Forbidden City today?
Generally speaking, everything has to be seen in the Forbidden City! The site is indeed in itself a curiosity so every traveler will find its own way in visiting the site. However, it is recommended to do a 3-4 hours visit due to the really large-scale size of this Old City. By visiting the site, visitors usually start by visiting Tiananmen Square and entering the city through every single tour passing to Beijing is including the visit to the Forbidden City, so there is no threat to miss this outstanding China attraction standing on the first positions of the top ten China attractions list.
Inside the city, some permanent exhibitions that may arouse your curiosity are held in different halls and palaces: an interesting way to learn more about Chinese Culture.
- Ceramics Gallery: in the Pavilion of Literary Profundity (文渊阁Wen Yuan Ge)
- Gold and Silver Wares Gallery: in the Palace of Great Brilliance in the Six Eastern Palaces
- Bronze Ware Gallery: in the corridor rooms around the Palace of Heavenly Purity (乾清宫Qian Qing Gong)
- Jade Gallery: in the Palace of Gathering Essence (钟粹宫Zhong Cui Gong) in the Six Eastern Palaces (东六宫Dong Liu Gong)
- Chinese Painting and Calligraphy Gallery: in the Hall of Martial Valor
- Treasure Gallery: in the Palace of Tranquil Longevity area
- Timepieces Gallery: in the Hall for Ancestry Worship
- Qing Imperial Opera Gallery: in the Pavilion of Pleasant Sounds and Hall for Viewing Opera
The Meridian Gate
Called "Wu Men (午门)" in Chinese, the Meridian Gate is the southern entrance of the Forbidden City and the largest and most imposing of the entrances of the site. Greatest of the gates, it is also the highest building of this Imperial Old City of China. In Ancient times, everyone entering the Forbidden City had to observe strict rules concerning its use as it was the place where emperors issued the almanac of next year and other important events. When a general returned from a battle, his captives would be "offered" to the emperor in a ceremony here, which was known as a victorious ceremony of "Accepting War Captives". Before this ceremony the emperor would pay sacrifice to altars such as the Altar of Earth and Grain (in today's Zhongshan Park) and the Altar of Imperial Ancestry (today's Cultural Palace of the Working People), which are close to the Meridian Gate.
The Gate of Supreme Harmony
The Gate of Supreme Harmony (太和门Tai He men) is the main entrance to the grand Outer Court of the Forbidden City. Located north of the square, it is the main gate of the Outer Court guarded by two bronze lions symbolizing the imperial power. Particularity that can be applied to lions "guarding" Chinese gates in general all over China, there is a precise way to position the 2 animals. Indeed, the lion on the east side should be the male with its right front paw over a globe symbol of the imperial power extended world-wide. The lion on the west side should be a female with its left front paw on a lion club, denoting a thriving and prosperous imperial family. So, when seeing 2 lions at the entrance of a gate or temple, one should be aware that the place is normally one dedicated to one emperor, symbolizing the Supreme Harmony of its reign. This particular gate played an important role in the development of emperors' life as it was there that emperors' wedding ceremonies were usually held.
The Hall of Supreme Harmony
The Hall of Supreme Harmony (太和殿Tai He Dian), also called "The Hall of the Golden Throne" is actually the grandest hall of the Forbidden City and the largest wooden structure in China. Originally constructed in 1402 during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the building was burnt down in later years. After some reconstruction and back to life, the Hall of Supreme Harmony that visitors have the chance to admire today is tracing back to 1695, time at which the reconstruction finished according to the plan of Emperor Kangxi, a sagacious emperor in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). During the dynasties that governed China, the hall was used to hold ceremonies on grand occasions, such as: the Emperor's enthronement, birthday and wedding day, the dispatch of generals to battles, the winter solstice and the Spring Festival.
Since ancient times, the Hall was a symbol of the imperial power as it figured as the highest structure in the empire during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. In order to keep that supremacy, no other buildings in the whole country were permitted to be higher. Of a 37.44 meters high, 63.96 meters in width and 37.2 meters in length the hall looks really impressive in the middle of the Old City. There are a total of 72 pillars, in 6 rows supporting the roof. Doors and windows are embossed with clouds and dragons, typical drawings of ancient China and the Emperor. The Hall of Supreme Harmony, as representing the Imperial Supremacy is a very luxurious building with for example its floor paved with fake golden bricks really precious to Chinese Culture.
In Chinese culture, an emperor is the incarnation of the dragon. As a consequence, the hall is dominated by dragon designs on the throne, columns, windows and ceilings. In ancient times, only emperors were allowed to have clothes, drawings and other things with a dragon. The common people would get into trouble if found in possession of such representation of the mystic animal. The golden throne sits on a platform in the north of the hall, with an elegant wall screen behind and three gilded columns on each side. In front of the throne, there are mythical beasts, cranes, and incense burners, which have their own symbolic meaning. The extraordinary ceiling above the throne changes in shape and has a dragon with a pearl in his mouth. The pearl is said to be able to distinguish whether the emperor is the legitimate inheritor or not. It would fall off the ceiling if an illegitimate successor ascended the throne.
The Hall of Central Harmony
The Hall of Central Harmony (中和殿Zhong He Dian) is the smallest hall among the three main halls in the Outer Court. This pavilion-style hall used to be the place for emperors to do preparations for ceremonies. Covering a total area of 580 square meters, the hall is a square structure built like a pavilion, each side of which is five bays long, measuring 24.15m. The hall has a single-eaved roof with a gilded pinnacle gleaming brightly in the sunshine.
Built in 1420, during the eighteenth years of Emperor Yongle reign (1403-1424), the hall was first named "Hua Hai Dian" at the beginning of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). In the reign of Emperor Jiajing (1522-1566), the hall was burnt down and was then renamed "Zhong Ji Dian" after reconstruction. The ancient ink marks of the three Chinese characters (中极殿Zhong Ji Dian) written on the building can still be seen. The Qing imperial household came to live in the Forbidden City in the first year of the reign of Emperor Shunzhi (1644-1661), and called the hall "Zhong He Dian" instead of "Zhong Ji Dian". The two Chinese characters "zhong" and "he", imply that each party can be satisfied only if they are treated without any bias, promoting "the golden mean" of Confucius. Having undergone three fires, the present hall takes on the look of what it was after reconstruction in 1627, seventh year of Emperor Tianqi (1621-1627) of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).
Inside the Hall stands a throne with 2 golden beasts on each side. The mythical beasts are named "Luduan (甪端)" with four legs and only one horn, said to be able to run 9000 km/day, speak many different languages and foretell the future. Placed beside the throne, the beasts were there to indicate emperors' brilliance and providence.
The Hall of Preserving Harmony
The Hall of Preserving Harmony (保和殿Bao He Dian) is the last main hall in the Outer Court. This rectangular wooden hall has multiple eaves, with ten different animal statues at each corner. It stands at the northern end of the three-tier marble terrace. Similar in style but somewhat smaller than the Hall of Supreme Harmony it is larger than the Hall of Central Harmony.
The hall was built in 1420, rebuilt in 1625 and renovated in 1765. The emperors of Ming dynasty would usually change into their ritual garments here prior to the ceremonial installation of an empress or crown prince. During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), feasts were given to nobles and ministers on special occasions, such as the Spring Festival (lunar January 1st), the Lantern Festival (lunar January 15) and princesses' wedding days. The candidates who had won a series of preliminary contests took the Final Imperial Examination at the hall. The Final Imperial Examination took place every three years and the topic for an essay was assigned by the emperor himself.
You may notice a number of large marble blocks or rocks on the road. The most impressive one is the huge marble ramp behind the Hall of Preserving Harmony, which was carved with cloud and dragons design. 16 meters long, 3 meters in width and 1.7 meters in thickness, and weighs about 200 tons the hall is still very imposing. This huge rock was quarried from Fangshan District, around 70 km southwest of Beijing. On the ramp, the nine dragons fly behind the floating clouds representing the unity of the great empire and emperors' divine power granted by the Heaven.
The Gate of Heavenly Purity
The Gate of Heavenly Purity (乾清门Qian Qing Men) is the building that separates the Forbidden City into two parts: the Outer Court and the Inner Court. That is actually behind this gate that locates is the residential area of emperors. In front of the gate stands a pair of golden lions, a little smaller than those guarding the Gate of Supreme Harmony but having the same symbolical meaning of Supreme Harmony of one Emperor's reign. Frightening devils away for their fierce look, the lion are to Chinese people the perfect gate-guarders ever. Beside the lions, ten huge golden vats are laid. Not only garnitures but also hold water in case of fire, the vats weigh over 2,000 kilograms and can hold more than 2,000 kilograms (4,409 pounds) of water! Although decorative, their prime function was to hold vast amount of water to fight the outbreak of fire. A total of 308 vats spread around the Forbidden City, 22 of which are of the same design as those seen by this gate.
The gate was established in 1420 and rebuilt in 1655 after series of fires. 5-bay-wide, 3-bay-deep and 16-meter-high, the Gate of Heavenly Purity is a structure with single-eaved roof, resting on the 1.5-meter-high white marble base of Buddhist-style building surrounded by carved stone balustrades. By continuing the visit outside the gate, visitors will discover the four huge gleaming, gilded bronze vats.
Emperor Kangxi, the second successor of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), was the emperor who started to hold court at this gate instead of the Gate of Supreme Harmony that was used by its predecessors. There, ministers used to gather at dawn to report the state affairs and listen to emperors' decision. In the east stands the Upper Study Building, the place where princes studied in the Qing Dynasty. In the west, the smaller houses were the offices of the General Command Centre (军机处Jun Ji Chu), initially a military institution.
The Hall of Heavenly Purity
The Hall of Heavenly Purity (乾清宫Qian Qing Gong), 20 metres in height, is actually the largest hall in the Inner Court of the Forbidden City. Throughout the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and the earliest period of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), 16 emperors lived in that hall. Emperor Yongzheng, third emperor of the Qing Dynasty, moved to live in the Hall of Metal Cultivation. Hence, the hall was the place where emperors used to hold council, interview his ministers and foreign ambassadors and read submitted documents. Festivals, family banquets and ceremonies often took place in the hall.
In the centre of the Hall, a throne surrounded by cloisonne incense burners, long red candles, couplets written by Qing emperors, and large mirrors stand. Mirrors were placed beside the throne of the Emperor to ward off evil spirits. The Chinese characters written on a plaque over the throne and signifying "Justice and Brightness (正大光明Zheng Da Guang Ming)" were written there by Emperor Yongzheng. Strangely enough, that plaque has much more symbolical meaning than we think. Indeed, behind the plaque stands a box where names of crown princes were placed on duplicate documents and a copy would be placed in a box behind this plaque. This method was used to designate the prince who would take the crown upon the death of the emperor.
The Hall of Union and Peace
Also called the Hall of Celestial and Terrestrial Union (交泰殿Jiao Tai Dian), that hall is one of the three main palaces in the Inner Court of the Forbidden City. It is located between the other two main palaces - the Palace of Heavenly Purity (乾清宫Qian Qing Gong) and the Palace of Earthly Tranquility (Kun Ning Gong). The hall was established during the reign of Emperor Jiajing (1522-1566), Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), and restored in the second half of the 1650s. It is a single-roof structure with a gilded bronze spherical pinnacle. Square in shape, it is 3-bays wide and 3-bays deep, smaller than the Hall of Central Harmony (zhonghedian). Originally, the name of that hall was taken from the "Book of Changes" (or I Ching, 易经), meaning the union of heaven and earth, peace and harmony for the whole nation. Due to the authoritarian role of eunuchs during the Ming Dynasty, Emperor Shunzhi (1644-1661) tried to forbid there interference into state affairs by setting an iron sign in the hall.
During the Spring Festival, Winter Solstice and birthday, empresses used to hold ceremonies in the Hall of Union and Peace, receiving tributes from the imperial concubines, the princesses and the princes' wives. That started at the reign of Emperor Qianlong that the hall used to keep twenty-five imperial seals, each of which was designed for a certain purpose.
Behind the throne, visitors can see a screen with an ode to the Hall of Union and Peace written by Emperor Qianlong. Above it, two characters on a plaque advise Emperors to govern the state with virtue. A 1745 clepsydra stands in the east of the hall.
The Hall of Earthly Tranquility
Called "坤宁宫 (Kun Ning Gong)" in Chinese, the Hall of Earthly Tranquility is a building built in 1420, used as empresses' residence during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). In 1655, the hall was restored and divided into two parts. The two chambers in the east were changed into bridal rooms while the remaining four chambers were used as a place of worship. Manchu Qing rulers at the head of the country for a while, were not satisfied with the palace looking too much "Han" for them. As a result they rebuilt it to the Manchu's style, replicating their palaces in Shenyang (their capital before their entry to central China).
The chamber for bridals is painted in red and palace's lamps are hung high with Chinese characters meaning "double happiness" to create a warm and happy atmosphere. Word as auspicious signs for whenever the emperor opened the door, he would see the character. The bed canopy and quilt that can be seen in the chamber were both embroidered with 100 children playing, hence the name "100 Children Canopy" and "100 Children Quilt". Just referred as a bridal room, the newly wed emperor and empress only lived in the chamber for several days, and then the emperor moved to the Hall of Mental Cultivation (养心殿Yang Xin Dian) while the empress moved to another dwelling palace in the Forbidden City.
A special custom around that chamber is still to be learnt. Indeed, if emperors got married before coming to the throne, the place for marrying would mot be there. As a consequence, just 3 emperors lived there: Kangxi (1662-1722), Tongzhi (1862-1874), and Guangxu (1875-1908) for they ascended the throne at early ages. Emperors' weddings were extremely luxurious, costing extraordinaire amounts of money despite the extreme poverty of the country.
Behind the Hall of Earthly Tranquility, stands the Gate of Earthly Tranquility (坤宁门Kun Ning Men) : the imperial doctors' duty room, dispensary and the eunuchs duty room flanking it can be seen there.
The Hall of Mental Cultivation
The Hall of Mental Cultivation (养心殿Yang Xin Dian) was where Emperor Yongzheng, third successor of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), moved for making it his residence. Subsequently, seven emperors lived in the hall and handled their routine work there. It has a separate courtyard with a gate as its entrance and stands to the southwest of the Hall of Heavenly Purity.
The notorious Empress Dowager Cixi (慈禧太后), attended to state affairs sitting behind a curtain in the East Warmth Chamber (东暖阁Dong Nuan Ge). From behind this curtain, she corruptly ruled China for 48 years first as a regent and domineering mother of her son and subsequently as regent to her adoptive nephew. Emperors from Yongzheng (1678-1735) to Xianfeng (1831-1861) held private audiences in the West Warmth Chamber (西暖阁Xi Nuan Ge). The small house in the west, named Hall of Three Rare Treasures (三希堂San Xi Tang), was so-called because Emperor Qianlong (1711-1799) collected and held three outstanding calligraphy masterpieces.
The hall is composed of 5 imperial bedrooms, a rear hall for temporary lodgings, provided for empresses and concubines respectively when they were summoned to attend the emperor. Without invitation from the emperor they were expressly forbidden to come in this place.
The Six Western Palaces
The Six Western Palaces (西六宫Xi Liu Gong) site lies to the north of the Hall of Mental Cultivation. The 6 palaces form a group of three palaces on either side, constituting an alley that runs from north to south. This part of the Forbidden City is one of the oldest one:
- The Palace of Eternal Longevity (永寿宫Yong Shou Gong)
- The Palace of the Queen Consort (翊坤宫Yi Kun Gong)
- The Palace for Gathering Elegance (储秀宫Chu Xiu Gong)
- The Hall of the Supreme Pole (太极殿Tai Ji Dian)
- The Palace of Eternal Spring (长春宫Chang Chun Gong)
- The Palace of Universal Happiness (咸福宫Xian Fu Gong)
All composed of a courtyard, front hall, rear hall and annexes. Because of emperors' polygamy, these buildings were needed to lodge the thousands of concubines of the "Son of Heaven".
The Palace of Eternal Spring is the most famous of the 6 for it is where seeing an amazing fresco: "A Dream of Red Mansions", like a noted Chinese novel that became very popular in the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Liking this book, the Empress Dowager Cixi asked for painting a fresco representing the masterpiece. The Palace for Gathering Elegance is like its name suggests it a place full of charms. A dresser, ivory boat and other rare crafts are displayed there.
The Hall for Ancestral Worship
Located in the eastside of the Inner Court, the Hall for Ancestry Worship (奉先殿Feng Xian Dian) was the imperial household during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, where worshiping ancestors. Constructed during the Ming, rebuilt in 1657 and restored many times later on some original things can still be seen by visitors. It is a "工-shaped" structure with a white base in Buddhist style, composed of both a front and a rear hall connected by a lobby. The front hall is the main hall, 9 bays wide and 4 bays deep, covering an area of 122,500 square meters. It has a double-eaved roof and glazed facing tile. The door opened in the front fifth bay and the back fifth bay meets the lobby. The rear hall is the bed chamber, 9 bays wide and 2 bays deep, covering an area of 75,500 square meters. Southward, outside the Gate for Ancestry Worship (奉先门Feng Xian Men) stands a cluster of rooms, serving as Sacred Warehouse and Sacred Kitchen. While in the east outside the Gate for Ancestry Worship is a small part itself, including 3 small halls, set up for the Emperor Jiajing (1522-1566) of Ming Dynasty to worship his father.
Now the hall has been converted into an exhibition hall dedicated to clocks and watches, for some manufactured by the Imperial workshop or made in Guangzhou and Suzhou; and others imported from England, France, German, Swiss, America and Japan, sent as gifts to the emperors. Though made over two thousands years ago, their beauty is still recognized in the world. For travelers interested to visit the Hall and its collection of ancient relics, here are some useful informations:
- Admission Fees: CNY 10
- Opening Hours: 08:30-16:20 (Oct. 16 to Apr.15), 08:30-17:00 (Apr. 16 to Oct. 15)
The Six Eastern Palaces
Like the Six Western Palaces(东六宫Dong Liu Gong), this bunch of palaces was also the residence of the emperor's concubines. It consists of:
- Palace of Great Benevolence (景仁宫Jing Ren Gong)
- Palace of Heavenly Favor (承乾宫Cheng Qian Gong)
- Palace of Purity (钟粹宫Zhong Cui Gong)
- Palace of Lasting Happiness (延禧宫Yan Xi Gong)
- Palace of Eternal Harmony (永和宫Yong He Gong)
- Palace of Great Brilliance (景阳宫Jing Yang Gong)
The 6 palaces are now home to several exhibitions, namely, the Palace of Great Benevolence houses an exhibition of more than 500 ancient Chinese bronzes. The Palace of Lasting Happiness rebuilt in 1931 is today a storeroom and actually the only modern building made of armored concrete. The Palace of Heavenly Favor was where the famous Dong E concubine (董鄂妃, the beloved concubine of Emperor Shunzhi) and its harem were located, turned today as an exhibition hall for a large number of bronze wares. The Palace of Great Brilliance houses Ming and Qing Crafts Exhibitions: lacquer wares, items of jade, stoneware, glassware and metal wares created during these dynasties are displayed for the curiosity of visitors. Finally, the Palace of Purity was the palace where the crown prince lived during the Ming Dynasty.
The Nine Dragon Wall
Located to the east of the Six Eastern Palaces and the Hall of Ancestral Worship, the Nine Dragon Wall (九龙墙, Jiu Long Qiang) is one of three most famous walls of this style in China, with the other two in Beihai Park (Beijing) and Datong City (Shanxi Province).
Built in 1773 during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), this marvelous wall is 20.4 meters long and 3.5 meters high. The Wall displays 9 dragons, each playing with a pearl, carved in a very lifelike manner. Yellow, blue, purple and white are applied to the carvings to depict the writhing dragons, and make the wall very attractive. The face of the wall has 270 pieces of colored glaze, 5 ridges and another 9 small dragons on the main ridge. According to Chinese symbolism and beliefs, the numbers were not a hazard. Indeed, 270 is a multiple of 9×5: numbers, when combined, signifying the supreme status of a sovereign, called "九五之尊(Jiu Wu Zhi Zun)" in Chinese. One strange thing about the fresco is the piece of wood located at the belly of the third white dragon. It is said that a carpenter carved it to replace a broken piece of glaze tile that broke by the end of the construction, otherwise all the craftsmen would have been punished for not finishing on time. Not discovered by the emperor, the wall was a pride of the court and is a great highlight of the Forbidden City today.
The Palace of Tranquil Longevity
At the north of the Nine Dragon Wall locates a building complex built for the emperors who abdicated from the throne. Covering an area of 46,000 square meters, the whole area is surrounded by lofty, red perimeter walls. It consists of:
- The Palace of Tranquil Longevity (宁寿宫Ning Shou Gong)
- The Hall of Temper Cultivation (养性殿Yang Xing Dian)
- The Hall of Joyful Longevity (乐寿堂Le Shou Tang)
- The Hall of Maintaining Harmony (颐和轩Yi He Xuan)
Real little city inside the Forbidden City, this group of buildings is the equivalent to the Outer Court and the Inner Court. The idea of building the Palace of the Tranquil Longevity Complex was brought up by Emperor Qianlong (1736-1795) who had planned to move to this area to meditate and pray after resignation. The building started to be built in 1772. After being emperor for 60 years, he resigned from the throne to show his respect for his grandfather Emperor Kangxi (1662-1722) who ruled for 61 years, by ruling one year less.
The Hall of Joyful Longevity
Situated behind the Palace of Tranquil Longevity, the Hall of Joyful Longevity (乐寿堂Le Shou Tang) is the emperor's living area after his retirement. The Hall consists of:
- The Hall of Temper Cultivation (养性殿Yang Xing Dian): the bedroom
- The Hall of Joyful Longevity (乐寿堂Le Shou Tang)
- The Hall of Maintaining Harmony (颐和轩Yi He Xuan)
The famous Empress Dowager Cixi lived here in her late years, pretending not to be interfering in state affairs. A noteworthy jade carving describing "Yu The Great" and his water-control project is to be seen at the north gate of the hall. Respected as a legendary flood-control hero as well as the supposed first emperor of the Xia Dynasty (21st-16th century BC), his works are still recorded as the most ingenious one for that period of time. Now, the 3 Halls house many precious royal articles like clothes, ornaments, furnishings and daily utensils.
Behind the Hall of Earthly Tranquility is the Imperial Garden (御花园Yu Hua Yuan) where the imperial family members recreated themselves. It is rectangular in shape and covers approximately 12,000 square meters. This was a private retreat for the imperial family and is the most typical of the Chinese imperial garden design.
Growing in front of the hall is a 400 year old pine tree. The Hall of Imperial Peace is the dominant building in the garden and occupies the central position. Surrounded by a wall, it dates from the 15th century. The doors are protected from evil spirits by two gilded unicorns. Inside the hall prayers were offered up to the Taoist God of Water (真武大帝Zhen Wu Da Di) for the protection of the Forbidden City from destruction by fire.
At each of the four corners of the garden there is a pavilion symbolizing the four seasons. The Pavilion of Myriad Springs is the most famous and occupies the eastern corner. Built in 1535 and restored during the Qing Dynasty, this is pavilion the pavilion symbolizing spring.
Located in the north-east is the Gathering Beauty Hill (堆秀山Dui Xiu Shan), an artificial mountain with a cave stands the Pavilion of Imperial View (御景园Yu Jing Yuan) where emperors used to sit for meditation. During the year, emperors would climb up to the pavilion on the Double Ninth Festival (重阳节, Chong Yang Jie) to enjoy the scenery with the royal family. The Gate of Divine Might (神武门Shen Wu Men) is at the northern end of the garden: the rear exit from the Forbidden City.