The Forbidden City
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, the Forbidden City in the heart of Beijing has become a major tourist destination attracting some eight million guests per year. It is rich in history, having been the residence of the emperors of two Chinese dynasties, and its collection of preserved ancient wooden structure is deemed the largest worldwide. It also houses a vast collection of artifacts and artworks that date back from the 15th Century.
Although known simply as the Forbidden City in English, its Chinese name, Zijin Cheng, literally means “Purple Forbidden City”. Zi, which means purple, is associated with the North Star, which, in Chinese astrology, is the home of the Celestial Emperor. The Forbidden City, therefore, is the home of the terrestrial emperor. Jin means forbidden and it reflects the fact that no person can enter or leave the city without permission from the emperor.
The Forbidden City was built by the Yongle Emperor of the Ming Dynasty in 1406, taking 15 years to complete by over a million workers. Whole logs transported from southern China, blocks of marble quarried near Beijing, terra cotta and glazed golden yellow tiles, and baked paving bricks were among the materials used in the construction. Woodworks were finished with gilding, lacquer, and paint. When completed, the city included 980 buildings spread out over 720,000 square meters.
After the fall of the Ming Dynasty, the Shunzhi Emperor of the Qing dynasty was installed. The young emperor occupied the Forbidden City and so did his successors until the last of them, Pu Yi, also known as the Last Emperor of China, abdicated from the throne in 1912.
The Forbidden City is rectangular, measuring 961 meters from north to south and 753 meters from east to west. All 980 wooden buildings still survive, although some of them have undergone restoration jobs and the others will likely need the same. It is surrounded by an 8-meter high wall and a 52-meter wide and 6-meter deep moat. The walls are 8.6 meters at the base and 6.6 at the top, serving both defensive and retaining functions.
An orthogonal line divides the Forbidden City into the northern Inner Court and the southern Outer Court. The Emperor and his family lived in the Inner Court. It is also where the day-to-day running of the state was conducted. The Outer Court, on the other hand, was used for ceremonial purposes.