The Forbidden City in the heart of Beijing is an enormous Imperial Palace that was the home of 24 Ming and Qing Dynasty emperors from 1420 to 1912. With spectacular architecture and grounds on a scale hard to imagine, the Forbidden City is stunning to see and walk through.
A trip to the Forbidden City will give you an incredible experience into Chinese culture and history. Without exaggeration, visiting the Forbidden City is a must for everyone travelling in China and the Forbidden City should be ranked high on every traveller’s wish list.
Names for the Forbidden City
The name Forbidden City comes from the rule that people were forbidden from entering the Forbidden City without the emperor’s permission and permission was rarely granted.
The Forbidden City is also called the Palace Museum because back in 1925 it was established as a museum by the warlords cliché who controlled Beijing at the time. The Forbidden City is still classed as museum and often still referred to as the Palace Museum.
The Chinese name for the Forbidden City is Gugong (故宫) which means old or ancient palace.
The history of the Forbidden City can be traced back to 1368 when Zhu Yuanzhang defeated the Yuan Dynasty and established the Ming Dynasty. Zhu’s first act as emperor was to move the capital of China from Dadu (modern day Beijing) to Nanjing and burn the Yuan palaces in Dadu to the ground. In 1413 Emperor Yongle named Dadu Beijing and made Beijing co-capital of China. Emperor Yongle then commissioned the building of the Forbidden City that took 15 years, required over a million workers and was finished in 1420. After the Forbidden City was finished, Emperor Yongle packed his bags and moved the home of the imperial family to the Forbidden City and made Beijing the primary capital of China.
The Forbidden City was the home of the Ming Dynasty from 1621 to 1644 until the Ming emperor was sent packing by rebels. Soon afterward the Manchus kicked the rebels out of Beijing, made themselves at home in the Forbidden City and established the Qing Dynasty that occupied the Forbidden City until the abdication of last Ming Emperor Puyi in 1912.
From 1912 to the establishment of the Peoples Republic of China in 1949, Beijing and the Forbidden City were the focus of numerous struggles for power in China and changed hands many times. Luckily during this period of chaos, the Forbidden City escaped relatively unscathed and only suffered a minimal loss of national treasures.
After 1949 the Forbidden City was less fortunate and was damaged by revolutionary activities during the years that followed such as the Great Leap Forward. Luckily Zhou Enlai saved the Forbidden City from further damage during the Cultural Revolution when Mao Zedong made up for political ground lost at the end of the not so successful Great Leap Forward.
Later in 1987 UNESCO declared the Forbidden City a World Heritage site and the Forbidden City went through a number of restorations to return it back to it’s pre 1912 condition.
Size and Structure
The Forbidden City is the largest palace complex in the world and covers 720,000 square meters and holds over 980 buildings. The compound that houses the Forbidden City is a 961 meter by 753 meter rectangle that is enormous and you need at least a day to cover all the main areas.
Wall & Moat – The massive walls surrounding the Forbidden City that you can see from the outside are 7.9 meters high, 8.62 meters wide at the base and 6.66 meters wide at the top. The walls are also guarded by a moat that circles the Forbidden City that is 6 meters deep, 52 meters wide and 3,800 meters long.
The moat is so large that the earth excavated to make it was moved to Jingshan Park just north of the Forbidden City to make a large hill. The water in the moat is from the Tongzi River which enters the moat from the North West and drains out of the moat in the South East. During the peak tourist season, you can hire boats to paddle around the moat which gives a very interesting perspective of the Forbidden City.
Yellow – Yellow is the color representing the royal family so yellow is a dominant color in the Forbidden City. You can see this in the roofs that are made of glazed yellow tiles, yellow palace decorations and many of the ground tiles that are yellow. The only two buildings in the Forbidden City that do not have yellow tiles are the Crown Prince’s residence which has green tiles (green for growth) and the Imperial library. The library’s tiles where black which is symbolic of water and fire prevention.