china edition


Forbidden City - Layout

Rectangular in shape, the Forbidden City is the world's largest palace complex and covers 720,000 square m. Surrounded by a 6 m deep moat and a 10 m high wall are 5 halls, 17 palaces, and numerous other buildings.

The Forbidden Palace is reputed to have a total of 9,999.5 rooms. However, according to surveying by the Palace Museum, there are about 8,600 existing rooms. (The majority of buildings in the Forbidden City have an odd number of rooms, distributed symmetrically about an axis. However, the Imperial Library had 6 rooms as a charm against fire, because the number 6 is associated with water in astrology. So that the building does not look out of place, the 6th room was built very small, hence the half-room.)

The wall has a gate on each side. At the southern end is the Meridian Gate (technically, Tiananmen Gate is not part of the Forbidden City); to the north is the Gate of Divine Might, which faces Jingshan Park. The distance between these 2 gates is 960 m, while the distance between the gates in the east and west walls is 750 m. 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 curtain wall. These afford views over both the palace and the city outside. The Forbidden City is divided into 2 parts. The Outer Court, which includes the southern and central sections, centres on 3 halls used for ceremonial purposes, such as coronations, investitures, and imperial weddings. The 3 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 3 halls used for day-to-day affairs of state. The most important among these is the Palace of Heavenly Purity. The Inner Court is where the Emperor worked and lived with his family, eunuchs and maid-servants.

At the northern end of the Forbidden City is the imperial garden. It is home to some relatively old trees, most between 100 and 300 years of age.

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. Today, Tiananmen Gate in front of the Forbidden City is decorated with a portrait of Mao Zedong in the center and 2 placards to the left and right. The left one 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 used for long live, like the palace itself, was traditionally reserved for Emperors of China, but is now available to the common people.

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.

The individual buildings within the Forbidden City housed many important members of the Chinese aristocracy. The famous national civil service exams were given inside one of these buildings. 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 statuettes at each corner.