The Forbidden City is the largest palace complex is the world. It was home to the two last dynasties before The Chinese Republic. For 500 years when Emperors ruled China, no ordinary citizen was allowed to enter the city, with instant execution as punishment for attempting; hence the complex received its western name “The Forbidden City”. It is referred to as Palace Museum or Ancient Palace by the Chinese. The complex is divided into two parts: royal residence and ceremonial court.
All visitors must enter through the Meridian Gate on the south side of the complex. The Meridian Gate has five doors with the center door being the largest and used exclusively by the emperor. The only exception is on his wedding day his bride-to-be may enter through that door. The gate was mammoth and imposing with the solid red walls. This is the back of the gate.
A stream, Golden Water, is within the first gate in a huge courtyard. The stream inside the city is for fung shui, as well as practical purposes of waste removal and flooding relief. The stream has a second gate behind it called, Gate of Supreme Harmony.
We went to see a side gallery of beautiful porcelain and pottery housed in The Hall of Literary Glory. It was previously used as a study place for the crown prince. Chris’ favorite was the Tang ceramics with a melting look.
Down the middle line of the complex is the most important buildings. From the Meridian Gate the first one is The Hall of Supreme Harmony. It sits on three tiers of solid marble and was used for ceremonial occasions such as, emperors birthday, coronation and Chinese New Year. It was originally built in the 15th century and restored in the 17th century. The number of gargoyles on the corners of the roof are meant as protection and blessings to the building. The more a building has the more important the building; this building has the most with 11 gargoyles.
The courtyard in the front of the hall is made of 15 layers of brick. This and the lack of trees was meant to protect the emperor from assassination as you couldn’t dig up into the city. Another plus, no weeds in between the bricks to deal with either! Inside of The Hall of Supreme Harmony is The Dragon Throne from which the emperor would rule his ministers.
The Hall of Central Harmony is directly behind the first Hall. It is used by the emperor as a transit lounge to The Hall of Supreme Harmony. He would practice speaches here or any last minute preparations. Two sedan chairs used to carry the emperor around the Forbidden City are on display.
(Supreme Harmony, Central Harmony, & Preserving Harmony Halls, from R to L):
The final building in this grouping on the central line is The Hall of Perserving Harmony. This Hall was used for banquettes and imperial examinations.
The most notable part is the 250 ton marble carving of dragons and clouds. It is a carriage way and the Emperor was carried over it in his sedan chairs upon entering or exiting this building. This carving is one solid piece of marble and it was transported to the city by a path of ice, which the men made by digging wells and moving the water to a path where it froze.
Behind these three halls is another set of three halls on the Meridian line. These are smaller but the same basic design. They are also the start of the private residence of the emperor, family, and concubines. The first building of this set is The Palace of Heavenly Purity, which served as the Emperors bedroom.
Directly behind the Emperors bedroom was the bedroom of his wife, called The Hall of Union. The Emperor only has one wife but was allowed 1,000s of concubines. The Hall of Union currently exhibits a mechanical clock from 1797.
The Palace of Earthy Tranquility was the final building. It was the bridal suite for the Emperor and his wife. It is decorated entirely in red and the Emperor was required to sleep there with his wife every night for three months after their wedding.
There are 7,000 square meters of Imperial Garden within the complex. It consist of ancient cypress trees (over 300 years old), beautiful rock formations, walkways and pavilions. In the garden are two trees leaning on each other, they are called The Couple Tree.
While in the garden it was hard to believe that you were still in the complex, it has an entirely different feel and was very calm and welcoming.
We made our way into the Eastern portion of the complex and viewed The Nine Dragon Screen. This is a large wall of colored glazed tile that is 5 meters tall by 27 meters long. The famous story associated with this wall is that on the final day before showing the Emperor their work, one of the (numerous) artists broke one of the tiles. There was not time to make a new one, and if the screen was not completed on time the punishment was death for all of the artists. They worked together and managed to replace the tile with a painted and glazed wooden carving. The imperial inspector did not notice! Many years later, the paint started to wear and now you can see clearly that a wood tile was used.
The screen is on the entrance way into the Eastern corner of The Forbidden City. This is made up a small buildings referred to as The Complete Palace of Peace and Longevity. The concubines used to live in this portion of the complex but now it is home to The Treasure Gallery. The Gallery is home to many exquised items of gold, jewels, and jade, including the jewelry of the Emperors and their wives.
Buddhist dextral conch topped with silver-bodied and ruby-inlaid green cloissonne case, Qing dynasty:
Gold armillary sphere inlaid with pearls, from Qing dynasty.
Our final stop on the tour was The Pavillion of Cheerful Melodies, which is a three story opera house, the largest in the complex.
We loved seeing the entire complex and all of the details. We especially loved the stories that our guide told us as we walked around. Katie and Christopher were able to ask her numerous questions and she had answers for all of them! It was a hot, long day but well worth it to see the beauty and hear some of the stories of an amazing historical site!
Afterwards, we had lunch nearby. Chris had “the fox got into the henhouse”; many of the foods have had…”poetic” names, if they have english at all.