The Forbidden City is a sizable enclosure with crimson walls and yellow-glazed roof tiles that is situated in the center of Beijing, the capital of China. The precinct is a little city, as its name suggests. The Forbidden City is made up of more than 90 palace compounds, containing 98 buildings, and is encircled by a moat that may be up to 52 meters wide. It is 961 meters long and 753 meters broad.
For more than 500 years, China’s governmental and ceremonial hub was the Forbidden City. 24 emperors, their families, and servants lived in the Forbidden City after it was finished in 1420 during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. Puyi (1906–1967), the final tenant and the final emperor of imperial China, was driven out in 1925 when the precinct was converted into the Palace Museum. With an average of 80,000 visitors each day, it is still the most popular museum in the People’s Republic of China and one of the most significant cultural heritage sites despite no longer being an imperial precinct.
The Construction of the Forbidden City
The Ming dynasty’s fourth son, Zhu Di, who was crowned the Chengzu emperor (his formal title) in 1402, orchestrated a sensational coup d’état that led to the building of the Forbidden City. The Chengzu emperor moved the capital from Nanjing in southeast China to Beijing and started constructing a new center of the empire, the Forbidden City, in order to consolidate his rule.
The Forbidden City maintained its central role even after the Qing dynasty came into being in 1644 because the Manchu imperial family continued to reside and rule there. Although the area has undergone numerous renovations and modest constructions well into the twenty-first century, no significant changes have been made since it was finished. The Forbidden City’s architects adhered to the ideal cosmic order in Confucian thought since it is a ceremonial, ritual, and dwelling area and had held Chinese social structure together for generations. This design made sure that all activities in this micro-city were carried out in a way that suited the participants’ social and familial responsibilities. Depending on the nature of the events, all activities, such as imperial court ceremonies or life-cycle rites, would take place in elegant palaces. The court similarly chose the residents of the Forbidden City solely based on their standings within the imperial family.
Architectural Style of The Forbidden City
The architecture of the Forbidden City is full of subtle variances and symbolism, despite the fact that the majority of its structures are built of wood and have a similar style. It has some of China’s most impressive and historically significant structures and characteristics. It can be challenging to know what to watch out for because it encompasses roughly 980 buildings over a wide area of about 150,000 square meters. Here are 10 of its architectural gems to look out for so you can get the most out of your trip.
Layout: The South-North Star Axis of Power
One of the most significant aspects of the Forbidden City’s plan is its south-north axis. The south-north axis was considered to direct guests towards Heaven because it is the solitary star in the northern sky that appears to be stationary, leading from its major southern entrance through its beautiful halls to its northern emperors’ chambers. The emperor was kept in the north because it was thought that he stood for Heaven. The Beijing old city’s south-north axis serves as the focal point of the palace complex.
A crucial component of the Forbidden City is feng shui. The layout was created symmetrically using feng shui principles, with each building or area having a complementary component, and each side of the north-south axis complementing the others. One of the most significant activities in Chinese traditions and philosophy emphasizes the unity of humans and nature.
Wood makes up the beams and columns of the Forbidden City as well as the walls that divide the passageways into several rooms. The preferred building material in classical Chinese architecture was wood. The Forbidden City is home to the largest collection of intact medieval wooden buildings in the whole globe. There are numerous instances of exceptional carpentry used in the construction of the Forbidden City’s buildings, which are all composed of high-quality timber beams and columns.
Painting and Decorations
Over the course of the Forbidden City’s 500-year imperial existence, painting and ornamentation underwent significant alteration, although some features remained the same. To fit their own preferences, several emperors and members of their families frequently altered the windows and doors, and they also frequently changed the wall decorations in each hall. The Forbidden City’s most auspicious hue, red, is painted on the majority of its columns, giving the region a more unified appearance. The oil paint serves as both an aesthetic element and a preservation tool for the wood.
The majority of the architectural decorations fall into one of three categories: Suzhou garden motifs, geometric patterns, and imperial paintings of dragons and phoenixes. The two main symbols that may be seen around the Forbidden City are dragons and phoenixes. Emperors were symbolized by dragons, and empresses by phoenixes. Along with the main structures, Suzhou garden themes are used to embellish several pavilions and towers. The classical gardens of Suzhou feature motifs that are similar to those seen in the Forbidden City.
Roofs and Eaves Decorations
The roofs and eaves of the Forbidden City are among its architectural highlights. Yellow tiles were only allowed in the Forbidden City’s imperial structures because that was the emperor’s preferred color. The most significant structures in the Forbidden City had significant roof shapes as well. The most elegant roofs in the empire were double-eave hip roofs, which were only found on the finest imperial structures.
Important Chinese structures have had animal statues on their eaves at least since the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD). The roofs of the Forbidden City are home to a wide variety of animals. Every animal has a unique meaning. Dragons, for instance, are utilized to ward against fire, while phoenixes bring luck and stand for virtue. The maximum allowed number of animals in China is 9, and the number of animals represented the status of a structure.
Chinese culture places a lot of emphasis on numerology, which is clearly visible at the Forbidden City. The structure is covered in patterns based on the number nine and its multiples, which stand for strength and endurance. The number 9 came to be closely associated with imperial status since it is the largest single digit and the emperor was considered to be the most important individual. The claim that the total structure has 9,999 rooms may be the most notable example.
Stone Terraces and Carvings
The marble terraces that sit beneath the palaces were built to support the constructions and keep the wooden building’s foundations from decaying. The terraces’ height serves as a hierarchical signal. The terrace below the Hall of Supreme Harmony is therefore the tallest. A huge bluestone carving depicting numerous dragons playing with pearls can be found behind the Hall of Preserving Harmony, between the stairways. The intricate dragon pattern is particularly remarkable since it symbolizes the emperor’s authority and might.
Stone and Bronze Lions
The Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) lions, which are thought of as symbolic protectors, are made of stone and metal and can be seen close to the entrances of many of the Forbidden City complexes. The male and female lions are always found together, with the female on the left. The left paw of the female lion is cradling a youngster, and the right paw of the male lion is resting on a ball. The male lion’s ball is a symbol of affection and camaraderie, while the female lioness’s cub is a representation of guardianship. In China, lions are revered as “the king of the beasts,” and in Chinese culture, they frequently denote authority. When they are discovered in pairs, lions are thought to indicate happiness and fortune.
Ornate Throne Rooms
Numerous thrones were required in the structures scattered around the complex since the Forbidden City is so large and had so many pavilions. They are kept in royal rooms with elaborate furnishings. The Dragon Throne in the Hall of Supreme Harmony is among the most spectacular thrones. Since emperors were thought to be descended from dragons, dragons are often used as representations of an emperor’s strength and authority. The dragon throne is a magnificent sight to behold. It is surrounded by animals and fantastical beings and is perched at the top of a seven-step platform.
The Opera House of Changyin Pavilion
The Palace of Tranquility and Longevity’s pavilion, also known as the Pavilion of Cheerful Melodies, houses the largest performance stage in the Forbidden City, a 21-meter-high, three-story wooden opera house. It was constructed in 1776 and has a lot of unique elements, like trap doors that let actors make grand entrances. Performances have recently been held here for notable foreign visitors.
Western-Style Crystal Palace
The Palace of Prolonging Happiness is an unfinished Western-style palace from the 20th century, and it is situated in one of the Forbidden City’s six eastern palaces, toward the back of the Forbidden City. The palace’s construction started in 1909 but was abandoned due to a lack of funding. The upper portions of the tower are built of cast iron and clear panels that were originally filled with glass. The foundation is composed of beautifully carved marble. It is one of the most distinctive constructions in the Forbidden City since it is plainly created in a “foreign” architectural style, setting it different from the buildings that surround it.
The Forbidden City is still evolving today. The museum strikes a balance between being a contemporary museum and a historical site by preserving the palace compounds’ buildings and interiors, and in some cases turning minor palace buildings and corridors into exhibition galleries for the priceless artwork from the imperial collections. The Forbidden City is viewed by many as a time capsule for China’s past as well as a place where the general people may learn about and enjoy the history and beauty of this ancient culture.