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Travel Guide
Travel Guide

The Forbidden City, also called the Purple Forbidden City or Gugong (the ancient palace, in Chinese), is located in the center of Beijing, China. The word "purple" is associated with auspicious developments and the word "forbidden" is self-explanatory as the imperial palace was heavily guarded and off-limits to ordinary people. It had been the imperial home of 24 emperors of the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. From their throne in the Forbidden City, they governed the country by holding court sessions with their ministers, issuing imperial edicts and initiating military expeditions.

Rectangular in shape, the Forbidden City is 960 meters long from north to south and 750 meters wide from east to west. The city is encircled by a 52 meter wide and 6 meter deep moat, called the protective river of the city, and surrounded by a 10-meter high red wall. It had 9,900 rooms,with layout following strict feudal code, under a total roof area 150,000 square meters.



Construction of the palace complex began in 1407, the 5th year of the Yongle reign of the third emperor of the Ming dynasty. It was completed fourteen years later in 1420. It was said that a million workers including one hundred thousand artisans were driven into the long-term hard labor. Stone needed was quarried from Fangshan, a suburb of Beijing. It was said a well was dug every fifty meters along the road in order to pour water onto the road in winter to slide huge stones on ice into the city. Huge amounts of timber and other materials were freighted from faraway provinces. Ancient Chinese people displayed their very considerable skills in building the Forbidden City. Take the grand red city wall for example. It has an 8.6 meters wide base reducing to 6.66 meters wide at the top. The angular shape of the wall totally frustrates attempts to climb it. The bricks were made from white lime and glutinous rice while the cement is made from glutinous rice and egg whites. These incredible materials make the wall extraordinarily strong.
 

Since yellow is the symbol of the royal family, it is the dominant color in the Forbidden City. Roofs are built with yellow glazed tiles; decorations in the palace are painted yellow; even the bricks on the ground are made yellow by a special process. However, there is one exception. Wenyuange, the royal library, has a black roof. The reason is that it was believed black represented water then and could extinguish fire.

The Forbidden City consists of two parts, the Front Palace and the Inner palace. In the center of the Front Palace stand the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the Hall of Complete Harmony and the Hall of Preserving Harmony. The Inner Palace includes the Palace of Heavenly Purity, the Hall of Prosperity, the Hall of Earthly Peace and the Imperial Garden.



Only the most important ceremonies were held in the Hall of Supreme Harmony -- the enthronement of an emperor; celebration of the first day of the New Year, winter solstice; Spring Festival (from the first to the fifteenth of the first lunar month); the emperor's birthday, announcement of successful candidates in the imperial examinations and proclamation of imperial directives.
 

The imposing "Three Great Halls" are built up on broad terraces and decorated with carved pillars. The ornamental Dragon's head at the base of each pillar serves the practical purpose of water drainage. If you visit the palace on a rainy day you will witness the magnificent sight of 1,142 dragons on the three terraces simultaneously spurting rain water from their mouths.
 

Three flights of steps, the middle of which is decorated with slabs of exquisitely carved marble, connect the three terraces along the central Imperial Way. That to the north of the Hall of Preserving Harmony is the most spectacular of all. Large marble panels are framed with an order of flowers and ocean waves. In the center, a sea of curled clouds set off groups of nine (the imperial number) coiling dragons (the emperor' s personal symbol) rising from their midst. These stone carvings are considered to be some of the finest in China.
 

The Gate of Heavenly Purity (Qianqingmen) stands as the main entrance to the"Inner Palace," Qing emperors sometimes held court and seated on a throne in front of this gate . The northern half of the Imperial Palace, the "Inner Palace," begins here with a dizzying succession of exquisite courtyards, halls, towers and pavilions. The Palace of Heavenly Purity (Qianqinggong ), the Hall of Prosperity (Jiaotaidian) and the Hall of Earthly Peace (Kunninggong) are known collectively as the "Three Rear Palaces" (Housangong). From the Ming up through the time of Emperors Kangxi in the Qing Dynasty, the emperors lived in the Palace of Heavenly Purity and the empresses in the Hall of Earthly Peace. Later, the Palace of Heavenly Purity was used for holding audience with courtiers and foreign diplomats and the Hall of Earthly Peace for offering sacrifices to the gods. The padouk wood cabinets, lacquer ware stove stands, crane-shaped candle holders and the cloisonni braziers and incense burners are all arranged as they were in the old days.



The Hall of Prosperity is a small ceremonial hall. During the reign of Emperor Qianlong (1736- 1796), the 25 major imperial seals were kept here. They remain on display along with a chiming clock and a classical style water clock (clepsydra) made in 1745.

To the east and west of the "Three Real Palaces" are the Hall of Solemnity (Duanningdian), where the emperor' s clothing was stored; the Hall of Great Diligence (Maoqindian), where books, writing brushes and ink were kept; the Upper Study (Shangshufang), where the imperial princes met with their tutors; and the South Study (Nanshufang), where members of the Imperial Academy attending the emperor worked.
 

The Imperial Garden (Yuhuayuan) lies to the north of the flat-roofed Hall of Earthly Peace (Kunninggong), a classical piece of Ming architecture housing a statue of the Daoist Xuanwu. The garden's ancient pines and cypresses as well as the smaller temples and pavilions are all fine relics of the Ming and Qing dynasties. Each year the imperial family would climb up to the Imperial Viewing Pavilion (Yujingting) at the northern end of the garden on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month. To the east stands the Hall of Literary Elegance (Chizaotang), where a library of rare books was kept. A set of rare classical books entitled Selections from the Four Branches of Literature (Siku Huiyao), a revision of the Complete Library of the Four Branches of Literature (Siku Quanshu), compiled during the Qianlong reign, still survives in good condition as the only copy to be found in China.

Two hundred years ago the price for admission would have been instant death. Nowadays, the Forbidden City, is a Museum, called the Gugong Museum. Resplendent painted decoration on these royal architectural, the grand and deluxe halls, with their surprisingly magnificent treasures will certainly satisfy 'modern civilians'. top