The Forbidden City was the centre of Imperial China during the Ming and Qing dynasties (1416 – 1911). In its heyday, as many as 9,000 people – guards, servants, eunuchs, concubines, civil servants and members of the Royal Family – lived inside the Forbidden City. Entry was restricted to very few, apart from ministers and state officials. Today, the Forbidden City is the largest and best-preserved ancient palace complex in the world.
Covering 720,000 square metres, it contains 90 palaces and courtyards, 980 buildings and 9,999 rooms, all constructed with wood. The Outer Court was where the emperor carried out ceremonies, state banquets and imperial examinations. To the north of the Outer Court, lying beyond the Gate of Heavenly Purity is the Inner Court where the emperor, his consorts and the imperial household once lived. It is believed that approximately one million imperial treasures – paintings, silver, gold, jades, bronze ware, ceramics, porcelains, embroidered silk – are still kept here.
Today, the Forbidden City is the largest and best-preserved ancient palace complex in the world. Covering 720,000 square metres, it contains 90 palaces and courtyards, 980 buildings and 9,999 rooms, all constructed with wood. The Outer Court houses three important structures – the Hall of Supreme Harmony, Hall of Middle Harmony and the Hall of Preserving Harmony – where the emperor carried out ceremonies, state banquets and imperial examinations. To the north of the Outer Court, lying beyond the Gate of Heavenly Purity is the Inner Court where the emperor, his consorts and the imperial household lived.
Imagine getting lost inside a closed world of brightly painted wood, massive pillars with elaborately carved dragon scales and heads, white stone floors covered by yellow carpets, walls adorn with decorative silk embroideries and paintings. The Forbidden City is filled with history and haunting memories of Imperial China.
Forbidden City History
The construction of the Forbidden City was commissioned by Emperor Yong Le, the third Ming Emperor, after he relocated the capital city to Beijing in 1406. Following the ancient rules of spatial design, and the Chinese belief that emperors were gods bestowed by heaven, the arrangement of the buildings reflects the hierarchical order in heaven; all principal buildings are aligned on the vertical axis from south to north, flanked by a symmetrical arrangement of minor structures on horizontal axes. This arrangement puts the Forbidden City right at the centre of downtown Beijing.
After 14 years, the construction of all main structures was finished. A maze of bright-red walls, white marble balustrades with ornate relief patterns and yellow tiled roofs became the signature of this Imperial City. For the next 500 years, it housed the administrations and imperial households of 24 emperors, survived several peasant revolutions and saw millions of treasures come and go. Then China plunged into a period of political turmoil, ending the phase of feudal rule with Pu Yi – the last emperor of China. In 1925, the Forbidden City was open to public.
Highlights and Features
- Meridian Gate: The southern (main) entrance with five individual gates, for admitting people of certain ranks. The central gate was traditionally preserved for the use of the emperor.
- Gate of Supreme Harmony: Main entrance to the Outer Court guarded by a pair of bronze lion statues, symbolising imperial power.
- Hall of Supreme Harmony: The largest hall within the Forbidden City, used for ceremonial purposes, such as coronations, military leader nominations and imperial weddings. It is set on a three-tiered marble stone base and houses the ornate Dragon Throne.
- Hall of Preserved Harmony: Pillar-free hall used for banquets and later imperial examinations.
- Gate of Heavenly Purity: Separates the Inner Court from Outer Court, guarded by a pair of bronze lion statues.
- Palace of Heavenly Purity: The emperor’s residence and, in the later Qing period, imperial audience hall.
- Palace of Earthly Tranquility: The empress’ residence during the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644), then the Qing emperor’s nuptial chamber and worshipping altar.
- Hall of Mental Cultivation: The emperor’s office and later (from Emperor Yongzheng onwards) his bed chamber.
- Clock Exhibition Hall: Houses about 200 antique clocks and timepieces given to the emperors by foreign envoys and Chinese-made clocks, including the six-metre high water clock – the largest in China.
- Imperial Garden: Where the imperial family spent their leisure time. Peppered with sculptures and four pavilions symbolising the four seasons, this landscaped garden is ideal for relaxing in.
- Treasure Gallery: It is believed that today, approximately one million imperial treasures – paintings, silver, gold, jades, bronze ware, ceramics, porcelains, embroidered silk – are kept in the Forbidden City. They are on display at the Treasure Gallery located at the northeastern corner, inside the three exhibition halls: Hall of Spiritual Cultivation, Hall of Joyful Longevity and Belvedere of Well-Nourished Harmony.
Good to Know and What Not to Miss
- Plan to spend at least three hours touring the main attractions
- Some of the buildings may be under renovation and closed to public
- Located opposite Tiananmen Square
- Opening Hours: April 1st - October 31st 08:30 to 17:00 (last entry: 16:10), November 1st - March 31st 08:30 to 16:30 (last entry: 15:40)
- Address: 4 Jingshan Qianjie, Beijing 100009, China
- Tel: +86 10 8500 7421
- Price Range: April 1st - October 31st: 60 yuan, November 1st - March 31st: 40 yuan
- How to get there: Subway Line 1: Get off at Tiananmen West or Tiananmen East Station, then walk north though the Tiananmen Tower (Gate of Heavenly Peace). Subway Line 2: Get off at Qianmen Station, then walk north through the Tiananmen Tower.