Monday, December 15, 2008

travel to Beijing: The Forbidden City

The Forbidden City, also known as the Imperial Palace, the Palace Museum, the Purple Forbidden City and Gugong(故宫), is a must see! Located in the centre of Beijing, it is a real treasures house of Chinese cultural and historical relics. The splendid architecture of the Forbidden City represents the essence and culmination of the traditional Chinese architectural accomplishment.

Together with the Palace of Versailles in France, the Buckingham Palace in the UK, the White House in the US and the Kremlin in Russia, the Forbidden City is recognized as one of the most important five palaces in the world, enlisted in the World Heritage by UNESCO in 1987.

As home to 24 emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasty, what’s it like? What kind of life has been inside the palace centuries ago when it was populated with royalty, eunuchs, servants and concubines?

The history of the Forbidden City

The construction of the Forbidden City started in 1407, the 5th year of Emperor Yongle reign of the third emperor of the Ming dynasty. It was completed fourteen years later in 1420. Until 1924 when the last emperor of China was driven from the palace, fourteen emperors of the Ming dynasty and ten emperors of the Qing dynasty had reigned here, the total is 24. Having been the imperial palace for some five centuries, it houses numerous rare treasures and curiosities. It is now one of the most popular tourist attractions world-wide.

The structure of the Forbidden City

The Forbidden City is the largest ancient palatial complex in the world with lots of beautiful buildings, covering an area of about 72 hectares. Try and do a little research before you go to, or the incredible size of the complex can actually make you wandering around aimlessly.

Rectangular in shape, consisting of 90 palaces and courtyards, 980 buildings and 8,704 rooms, It’s surrounded by a six meter deep moat and a 10 meter high wall. the wall has a gate on each side. Most travelers enter the Forbidden City from the Tian'anmen Gate.

The Forbidden City is divided into two parts. The southern section, or the Outer Court was where the emperor exercised his supreme power over the nation. It is made up of three main buildings, the Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihedian), the Hall of Central Harmony (Zhonghedian) and Bao He Dian or the Hall of Preserving Harmony (Baohedian). Want to see the emperors' magnificent Dragon Throne (Longyi in Chinese)? It’s placed in the first hall --- Hall of Supreme Harmony, which is the most important and largest structure in the Forbidden City. Next is the Hall of Central Harmony(Zhonghedian), resting place for the emperor before presenting the grand occasions held in the Hall of Supreme Harmony. Emperors would rehearse their speeches and presentations here before departing to the Temple of Heaven for the sacrifice rites. The last hall is the Hall of the Preserving Harmony used for banquets and later for imperial examinations.

The northern section, or the Inner Court was where the Royal Family actually lived. It contains a number of other halls and the Imperial Garden. Also, it’s composed of three rear main structures, the Palace of Heavenly Peace (Qianqinggong) --- the emperors' sleeping place, the Palace of the Union and Peace(Jiaotaidian) --- where the imperial seals were stored, and the Palace of Terrestrial Tranquility(Kun Ning Gong) --- the emperors' wedding room. Exiting the Hall of Terrestrial Tranquility and going further north, travelers will find the Imperial Garden. The garden offers an aesthetic change from the crimson or gray building complex to a colorful and luxuriant atmosphere. Besides the three rear main buildings are the six eastern palaces and six western palaces, where the emperor used to handle every day affairs and was the living quarters for the emperor, expresses and concubines. Those palaces, however, have been converted into exihibition halls, where a spectacular set of imperial collections is displayed.

The main exit gate of the Forbidden City is the Gate of Devine Might behind the Imperial Garden, which is opposite to the Tian'anmen Gate.

The construction of the Forbidden City

Construction of the palace lasted for fourteen years. It was said that a million workers including one hundred thousand artisans were driven into the long-term hard labor. They must not only finish the royal architectural wonders, the grand and deluxe halls, but also the splendid painted decoration on them. Nowadays, these surprisingly magnificent treasures will certainly satisfy tourists from home and abroad.

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.

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