The Forbidden City
The most visited tourist attraction in China and second only to the Great Wall of China in terms of world-wide fame, this massive imperial palace (the largest palace complex in the world) was home to all except one of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) emperors and all the emperors of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). The site was part of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) Imperial City, but the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty, Hongwu, ordered their palaces to be destroyed and moved the capital to Nanjing. However, Emperor Hongwu’s son, Yongle, moved the capital back to Beijing after his father’s death and ordered the construction of the Forbidden City. Construction began in 1406 and was finished in 1420.
The Forbidden City is bigger than you would imagine: as you walk through the palace complex you’ll begin to wonder when it might actually end. The lead-up to the Forbidden City, from the Gate of Heavenly Peace through to the entrance-proper at the imposing Meridian Gate is impressive enough. Once inside the palace you are confronted with red-walled hall after pavilion after hall, all with ornate eaves and tiled roofs. A large-scale renovation in the lead-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics has the Forbidden City truly sparkling.
The Forbidden City is divided into southern (outer court) and northern (inner court) sections. The outer court was used for ceremonial occasions while the inner court was the residence of the Emperor. The key feature of the outer court is the three great halls. The first you will encounter (after crossing the Golden Stream and heading through the Supreme Harmony Gate) is the commanding Hall of Supreme Harmony. Raised on a marble balustrade, this is the largest and most important hall in the complex, used for ceremonial occasions. Behind it are the Hall of Middle Harmony and Hall of Preserving Harmony.
Down some stairs and you have reached the inner court of the Forbidden City. From here there are three routes you can take. The central path leads you through a few more halls and pavilions to the Imperial Garden at the back of the palace complex. The western route is a similar journey through various halls, ending up at the Imperial Garden. The eastern route costs an extra ¥10 to enter. Highlights here include the 9 Dragon screen wall and the Hall of Jewelry, featuring the exquisite ornamentation of the royals. You’ll be hit up for another ¥10 if you want to enter the Hall of Clocks, which is also on the eastern route. After passing some more halls you’ll end up in the Imperial Garden and can exit the Forbidden City through the north gate. Audio guides are available in multiple languages for ¥40 plus ¥100 deposit.
Admission: ¥60. Open: Apr 1st-Oct 31st: 8:30-17:00; Nov 1st-Mar 31st 8:30-16:30.
Tel: +86 (010) 6513 2255. Website: www.dpm.org.cn
Directions: Just west of Tiananmen Dong subway station. Walk through the arch under the Gate of Heavenly Peace and keep going straight until you reach the entrance to the Forbidden City.
Show the taxi driver: 请带我去紫禁城，谢谢。 (Please take me to the Forbidden City. Thank you.)