Forbidden City

Located in the exact center of Beijing proper, The Forbidden City was political and ceremonial center of China and home to China’s Emperors for more than 500 years. Built in 1406, the palace was built and rebuilt through the Ming (1638-1611) and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties. The palace, which is now technically named The Palace Museum, was built to showcase the power and grandeur of China and its architecture and treasures are testament to that. The palace is the largest palace complex and the largest collection of ancient wooden structures in the world and was placed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1987. The Palace Museum’s collection of priceless artifacts is centered on the collections of China’s Emperors.

Located just north of Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City occupies an area of 74 hectares and is surrounded by a six meter deep moat and is encircled by a ten meter tall wall. The palace is split into two main sections, the Outer Court and the Inner Court. The Outer Court was where the Emperor and his ministers attended to government operations and the Inner Court is where the Emperor and his Empress and Concubines lived and relaxed.

Color is an incredibly important part of the palace and every color has meaning and was carefully chosen. The walls of the buildings and defensive structures are red because in China, red is traditionally a symbol of joy, celebration, and good luck. The roofs of almost every building in The Forbidden City are yellow. Yellow is the color of the Emperor and only he was allowed to use it. His clothing, and the roofs of his dwellings, temples, and official buildings are yellow. The majority of the roofs in the palace are gold, the exceptions are Wenyuange, the royal library, and the residences of the eunuchs. The roof of Wenyuange are black because black symbolizes water and it was to help keep the royal library from burning. The eunuch’s residences and offices had roofs of grey tile.

The Forbidden City was located in the exact center of ancient Beijing. During the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), Beijing was the capital of China. The first Emperor of the Ming Dynasty moved the capital to Nanjing, in Jiangsu Province. His son, the Emperor Yongle, moved the capital to Beijing and started construction on his palace in 1406. It is built just south of the site of the Yuan Dynasty’s imperial palace.

The construction of The Forbidden City lasted from 1406-1421 and no expense was spared in its construction. It is believed that over one million artisans and workers from across China toiled to build it. The finest wood, stone, and tiles were brought from across the empire. The palace was designed as a stage to showcase the magnificence and power of the son of heaven.

The Forbidden City was the center of the Ming Dynasty from 1420-1644. In April of 1644, the Beijing and its capital was captured by a rebel army lead by li Zicheng. Emperor Chongzhen, the last Emperor of the Ming Dynasty, fled to Coal Hill, where he hung himself. The surviving government officials of the Ming Dynasty asked the Manchurians to come into Beijing to drive out Li Zicheng who had declared himself Emperor of the Shun Dynasty. By October of 1644, the Manchurian army had driven all the rebel forces out of Beijing and proclaimed the beginning of The Qing Dynasty and crowned Emperor Shunzhi. The Forbidden City was the political center of China until 1911. During the Qing Dynasty, many of the buildings were rebuilt, including some that had laid in ruin for many years. The majority of the buildings were renamed with bilingual name boards placed above gates. The name boards were writing in Chinese, and Manchurian.

In 1860, during the Second Opium War, the Anglo-French forces occupied The Forbidden city and occupied it for several months. The burning of the palace was discussed, but it was not harmed, although a huge part of its treasures were looted.

From 1900 to 1901, the Emperor Guangxi fled Beijing and The Forbidden City was occupied by the treaty powers. The Emperor Guangxi and the Empress Dowager Cixi fled Beijing and spent a period of time hiding.

In 1911, after 500 years of occupation, the Emperor Xuantong, the last Emperor of The Qing Dynasty, abdicated the throne and the palace stopped being the political center of China until 1915 when Yuan Shikai, a general in the Qing army crowned himself emperor for one year and The Forbidden City once again became the political center of China for that brief period.

In 1925, the palace was renamed the Palace Museum and the grand palaces that were off limits to almost to commoners was opened to the public. They are an incredible collection of architectural treasures and a great look into the majesty of Imperial China.

UNESCO added The Forbidden City to the World Heritage List in 1987.