Lying at the center of Beijing, The Forbidden City is the best-preserved imperial palace in China and the largest ancient palatial structure in the world. It was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty but now houses the Palace Museum. For almost five hundred years, it served as the home of emperors and their households, as well as the ceremonial and political center of Chinese government. It is a real treasure house of Chinese cultural and historical relics. (UNESCO)
The Forbidden City, situated in the very heart of Beijing, was home to 24 emperors of the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) Dynasties. In ancient times, the emperor claimed to be the son of Heaven, and therefore Heaven’s supreme power was bestowed upon him. The emperors’ residence on earth was built as a replica of the Purple Palace where God was thought to live in Heaven. Such a divine place was certainly forbidden to ordinary people and that is why the Forbidden City is so named.
The site of the Forbidden City was situated on the Imperial City during the Mongol Yuan Dynasty. Upon the establishment of the Ming Dynasty, the Hongwu Emperor moved the capital from Beijing in the north to Nanjing in the south, and ordered that the Yuan palaces be burnt down. When his son Zhu Di became the Yongle Emperor, he moved the capital back to Beijing, and construction began in 1406 of what would become the Forbidden City. The construction lasted 15 years, and required more than a million workers. Material used include whole logs of precious Phoebe zhennan wood found in the jungles of south-western China, and large blocks of marble from quarries near Beijing. The floors of major halls were paved with “golden bricks”.
The Forbidden City is the world’s largest surviving palace complex and covers 72 hectare (178 acres). It is a rectangle 961 meters (3,153 ft) from north to south and 753 meters (2,470 ft) from east to west. It consists of 980 surviving buildings with 8,707 bays of rooms. The Forbidden City was designed to be the centre of the ancient, walled city of Beijing. It is enclosed in a larger, walled area called the Imperial City. The Imperial City is, in turn, enclosed by the Inner City; to its south lays the Outer City.
The collections of the Palace Museum are based on the Qing imperial collection. According to the results of a 1925 audit, some 1.17 million items were stored in the Forbidden City. In addition, the imperial libraries housed one of the country’s largest collections of ancient books and various documents, including government documents of the Ming and Qing dynasties. Today, there are over a million rare and valuable works of art in the collection of the Palace Museum, including paintings, pottery, inscribed wares, bronze wares, Jade, Palace artifacts, court documents. According to an inventory of the Museum’s collection conducted between 2004 and 2010, the Palace Museum holds 1,807,558 artifacts and includes 1,684,490 items designated as nationally protected “valuable cultural relics.
Traditionally, the Forbidden City is divided into two parts. The Outer Court includes the southern sections, and was used for ceremonial purposes. The Inner Court includes the northern sections, was the residence of the Emperor and his family, and was used for day-to-day affairs of state. The outer court consists of three main buildings, the Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihedian), the Hall of Central Harmony (Zhonghedian) and the Hall of Preserving Harmony (Baohedian). These halls were where the emperors attended the grand ceremonies and conducted state affairs. The Hall of Supreme Harmony is the most important and largest structure in the Forbidden City. The emperors’ Dragon Throne (Longyi) is in this hall. Behind the Hall of Supreme Harmony is the Hall of Central Harmony (Zhonghedian), the resting place of the emperor before presiding over grand events 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 inner court is composed of the three main structures at the rear of the Forbidden City, the Palace of Heavenly Peace (Qianqinggong), the Palace of Union and Peace (Jiaotaidian) and the Palace of Terrestrial Tranquility (Kunninggong). Besides the three main buildings, there are the six eastern palaces and six western palaces, where the emperor used to handle everyday affairs, and which were the living quarters of the emperor, expresses and concubines.