The Forbidden City

The Forbidden City is known by many names. The name by which the site is most commonly known in English, "The Forbidden City," is a translation of the Chinese name Zijin Cheng, which literally means "Purple Forbidden City."

The Forbidden City courtyard
The Forbidden City courtyard (Photo: Wikipedia)

It is also known as the "Forbidden Palace" in English. The palace was "forbidden" in the sense that, aside from members of the imperial household, no one could enter it without the Emperor's permission.

Today, the site is most commonly known as Gugong in Chinese, which means the "Former Palace." The museum which is located in these buildings is known as the "Palace Museum".

In the Manchu language it is called Dabku-ri dorgi hoton, which literally means the "Layered Inner City."


The Imperial Palace Grounds are located directly to the north of Tiananmen Square and are accessible from the square via Tiananmen Gate. It is surrounded by a large area called the Imperial City.


Rectangular in shape, the Forbidden City is the world's largest palace complex and covers 720,000 square meters (178 acres, or 0.28 square miles). It is surrounded by a six meter deep moat and a ten meter high wall. The Forbidden City includes five halls, seventeen palaces, and numerous other buildings.

The Forbidden City is divided into two parts. The Outer Court, which includes the southern and central sections, centres on three halls which were used for ceremonial purposes, such as coronations, investitures, and imperial weddings. The three halls include the magnificent Hall of Supreme Harmony, itself fronted by the Gate of Supreme Harmony. Apart from ceremony, the Outer Court also houses the Imperial Library, archives, and lantern storage. The Inner Court includes the northern, eastern, and western parts of the Forbidden City, and centres on another three halls which were used for the day-to-day affairs of state. The most important among these is the Palace of Heavenly Purity. The Inner Court was where the Emperor worked and lived with his family, eunuchs and maid-servants.

Buildings in the Forbidden City are arranged along three north-south axes. The central axis houses the most important buildings. It runs from Meridian Gate in the south, to the Gate of Divine Might in the north. The "Three Front Halls", the centre of ceremonies, and the "Three Back Palaces", the centre of day-to-day affairs of state, are arranged along the central axis. Along the eastern axis are a number of semi-independent courtyards. The northern part of the eastern axis served as the Qianlong Emperor's residence in his retirement. Along the western axis are several gardens and a number of religious buildings. Large parts of the western section are not open to the public. Some buildings are in bad repair; a few were destroyed by fire in 1923 and never rebuilt. In his memoir, Puyi thought that the fire was started by eunuchs wanting to conceal evidence of smuggling treasures out of the palace.


The wall around the Forbidden City has a gate on each side. At the southern end is the Meridian Gate. To the north is the Gate of Divine Might, which faces Jingshan Park. The Gate of Divine Might is also called the Gate of Divine Military Genius. This is the main gate, used by everyone but the emperor (because he used the Meridian Gate). The distance between these two gates is 960 meters, while the distance between the gates in the east and west walls is 750 meters. The walls are thick and squat and were specifically designed to withstand attacks by cannons.

There are unique and delicately structured towers on each of the four corners of the surrounding wall. These towers afford views over both the palace and the city outside.

Outside the main gate to the Forbidden City, the Meridian Gate faces a square where imperial corporal punishments were sometimes carried out. To the south of that square stands Tiananmen Gate. That is where Mao Zedong gave his famous speech on communism.


At the northern end of the Forbidden City is the imperial garden. It is home to many trees aging 100 to 300 years old and many rare plants.


The royal color was yellow, and that color dominates the rooftops. On each corner of the roofs, there are small statuettes, the number of which designated the power of the person living within the building. The number 9 was reserved for the emperor. Only one building has 10 statues at each corner.

Major buildings


The Forbidden City is surrounded by royal gardens. To the west lies Zhongnanhai, the complex of buildings centred on two lakes which serves as the central headquarters for the Communist Party of China. To the north-west lies Beihai Park, which also centres on a lake and is a popular park. To the north lies Jingshan Park, also known as Jing Shan or Coal Hill, where the last Ming emperor hanged himself as the rebel army overran his palace.

Today, Tiananmen Gate in front of the Forbidden City is decorated with a portrait of Mao Zedong in the center and two placards to the left and right. The left placard reads "Long Live the People's Republic of China"), while the right placard reads "Long live the Great Unity of the World's Peoples"). The phrasing has great symbolic meaning, as the phrase "long live" was traditionally reserved for the Emperors of China, but is now available to the common people. This is also true of the Forbidden City palace itself.

Note: This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License . It uses material from Wikipedia.



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