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Forbidden City

An Introduction to Forbidden City

The Forbidden City, called Gu Gong in Chinese situated exactly in the heart of the municipality was home to 24 emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties.Now known as the Palace Museum, it is to the north of Tiananmen Square. Rectangular in shape, it is the world's largest palace complex and covers 74 hectares. Surrounded by a six meter deep moat and a ten meter high wall are 9,999 rooms. The wall has a gate on each side. Opposite the Tiananmen Gate, to the north is the Gate of Divine Might (Shenwumen), which faces Jingshan Park. The distance between these two gates is 960 meters, while the distance between the gates in the east and west walls is 750 meters. There are unique and delicately structured towers on each of the four corners of the curtain wall. These afford views over both the palace and the city outside.

The construction of the grand palace started in the fourth year of Emperor Yongle of the Ming Dynasty (1406) and ended in 1420. In the ancient time, the emperor claimed to be the son of the heaven and therefore their supreme power was conferred upon them from the heaven. Their residence on the earth was built as a replica of the Purple Palace where the God lived in the Heaven. Such divine place was certain forbidden for the ordinary people and it is why the Forbidden City is so called.

It was said that a million workers including one hundred thousand artisans were driven into the long-term hard labor. 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.

Since yellow is the symbol of the royal family, it is the dominant color in the Forbidden City. Roofs are built with yellow glazed tiles; decorations in the palace are painted yellow; even the bricks on the ground are made yellow by a special process. However, there is one exception. Wenyuange, the royal library, has a black roof. The reason is that it was believed black represented water then and could extinguish fire.

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. The northern section or the Inner Court was where he lived with his royal family. Until 1924 when the last emperor of China was driven from the Inner Court, fourteen emperors of the Ming dynasty and ten emperors of the Qing dynasty had reigned here. Having been the imperial palace for some five centuries, it houses numerous rare treasures and curiosities.

The museum is a real treasures house of Chinese cultural and historical relics, recognized as one of the most important five palaces in the world (the other four are the Palace of Versailles in France, the Buckingham Palace in the UK, the White House in the US and the Kremlin in Russia). The splendid architecture of the Forbidden City represents the essence and culmination of the traditional Chinese architectural accomplishment.   In 1961 the Palace Museum was listed as one of the important historical monuments under the special preservation by the Chinese central government and in 1987, it was nominated as the world cultural heritage by the UNESCO. The Forbidden City is the best preserved imperial palace in China and the largest ancient palatial structure in the world.   

Nowadays, the Forbidden City, or the Palace Museum is open to tourists from home and abroad. Splendid painted decoration on these royal architectural wonders, the grand and deluxe halls, with their surprisingly magnificent treasures will certainly satisfy 'modern civilians'.

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