The Forbidden City was the imperial palace from the Ming and Qing Dynasties. It is located in the middle of Beijing,, and now houses the Palace Museum. For almost 500 years, it served as the home of emperors and their households, as well as the ceremonial and political center of Chinese government.
The palace complex exemplifies traditional Chinese palatial architecture,and has influenced cultural and architectural developments in East Asia and elsewhere.
The Forbidden City was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987,and is listed by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world
The Purple Forbidden City
From the start, the Forbidden City was enmeshed in ritualistic and religious concepts. Legend has it that the very structure of the Forbidden City was conceived in a dream by YongLe’s tutor, a visionary monk.
The monk imagined an extraterrestrial city, where the Lord of Heaven resided in a purple enclosure (believed to be a constellation formed by 15 heavenly bodies turning round the polestar). According to chinese cosmology, the colour purple was a symbol of joy and happiness and also that of the polestar.In this way, the emperor established himself as the Son of Heaven, with the mandate to maintain harmony between the human and natural world, balancing the vastness of nature with a uniform modular system of rectangular courtyards and buildings. He and his city became linked to the divine forces of the universe. Therefore, the residence of the emperor was a purple city at the center of the temporal world.
Only the emperor could use the color purple, the color of the walls, and of the special vermilion ink with which the emperor signed his name.
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.
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”, specially baked paving bricks from Suzhou.
From 1420 to 1644, the Forbidden City was the seat of the Ming Dynasty. In April 1644, it was captured by rebel forces led by Li Zicheng, who proclaimed himself emperor of the Shun Dynasty.He soon fled before the combined armies of former Ming general Wu Sangui and Manchu forces, setting fire to parts of the Forbidden City in the process.By October, the Manchus had achieved supremacy in northern China, and a ceremony was held at the Forbidden City to proclaim the young Shunzhi Emperor as ruler of all China under the Qing Dynasty.The Qing rulers changed the names on some of the principal buildings, to emphasise “Harmony” rather than “Supremacy”, made the name plates bilingual (Chinese and Manchu), and introduced Shamanist elements to the palace.
In 1860, during the Second Opium War, Anglo-French forces took control of the Forbidden City and occupied it until the end of the war. In 1900 Empress Dowager Cixi fled from the Forbidden City during the Boxer Rebellion, leaving it to be occupied by forces of the treaty powers until the following year.
After being the home of 24 emperors – 14 of the Ming Dynasty and 10 of the Qing Dynasty – the Forbidden City ceased being the political centre of China in 1912 with the abdication of Puyi, the last Emperor of China. Under an agreement with the new Republic of China government, Puyi remained in the Inner Court, while the Outer Court was given over to public use,] until he was evicted after a coup in 1924.] The Palace Museum was then established in the Forbidden City in 1925. In 1933, the Japanese invasion of China forced the evacuation of the national treasures in the Forbidden City.Part of the collection was returned at the end of World War II, but the other part was evacuated to Taiwan in 1948 under orders by Chiang Kai-shek, whose Kuomintang was losing the Chinese Civil War. This relatively small but high quality collection was kept in storage until 1965, when it again became public, as the core of the National Palace Museum in Taipei.
The Forbidden City was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987 by UNESCO as the “Imperial Palace of the Ming and Qing Dynasties”, due to its significant place in the development of Chinese architecture and culture. It is currently administered by the Palace Museum, which is carrying out a sixteen-year restoration project to repair and restore all buildings in the Forbidden City to their pre-1912 state.
From January 1st, 2014, the Forbidden City will be closed on every Monday (except the public holidays and July 1 – Aug.31) for the examination and maintenance of the ancient palace architecture and the cultural relics.
The Forbidden City Tours