Forbidden City 101 @ Beijing China

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Beijing China

The Forbidden City is an icon in Beijing.  It was built from in 1406 – 1420 and it was the royal palace during the Ming and Qing Dynasties.   With an astounding area of 7,800,000 sq feet and 980 buildings, a day touring around the Forbidden City will only give you the slightest understanding about the palace.  

As you enter the Gate of Heavenly Peace (Tiananmen 天安门), it brings you to the meridian gate (wumen 午門), where the ticket counter is, together with lots of tour groups.

I was really excited when I saw the very first majestic hall – the Hall of Supreme Harmony (Dahe Dian 大和殿) !  The hall was used for celebrations like birthdays or the enthronement of a new emperor.

Even before reaching the hall, there is already so much to see.  The detailed stone slab,

the incense urns,

the sun-dial,

the lion statue,

and even the lower part of the railings are decorated with dragon heads.   Unfortunately though, the Hall of Supreme Harmony was not open during our visit.

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More details around the Hall of Supreme Harmony.

The next hall we visited was the Hall of Preserved Harmony (保和殿).  The hall had different purposes throughout the dynasties.  In the Ming Dynasty, it was used as a changing room for the emperors before important celebrations whereas in the Qing Dynasty it had many more functions.  During early Qing Dynasty, Emperor Shunzi and Emperor Kangxi lived here during their reign, the hall then evolved to a banquet hall and examination hall.

The words inscribed above the throne was written by Emperor Qianlong, meaning “Highest Norm for the Emperor to Found a Regime” (Huang Jian You Ji 皇建有極).

Throughout the palace, you will see a lot of stone carvings along the steps but the one behind the Hall of Preserved Harmony is the most impressive, weighing 200 tonnes at 16.75 meters.   The method that the stone was transported into the palace is really ingenious whereby water was sprinkled on the ground in winter to form an icy road, and the stone was pulled in with much ease.

The Hall of Heavenly Purity ( Qinqing Gong 乾清宫) was where the emperors lived and dealt with daily official matters.  The inscription above the throne meaning “Fair and Impartial” (Zheng Da Guang Ming 正大光明) had an important role during Emperor Yongzheng’s reign.  Emperor Yongzheng had 13 other brothers and he experienced the struggle for throne amongst his own brothers.  When he came to throne, he already had in mind for one of his sons, Hongli to be the successor.  To help Hongli overcome any obstacles he may face from other brothers, he left a system where the name of the successor to the throne was hidden behind the inscription in a sealed box and only announced upon his death, hoping to minimize plotting among his own sons.

The Hall of Heavenly Purity seems to have more ornaments than the other halls which are more barren looking.

Auspicious animals symbolizing “longevity” in front of the hall.

When Emperor Yongzheng retired from his reign, he moved to the Hall of Mental Cultivation (Yangxing Dian 养心殿).  The Hall of Mental Cultivation was originally an imperial workshop, manufacturing things for the palace.

Ever since Emperor Yongzheng’s occupation, it eventually became the Emperor’s living quarters, and it remained so for the next eight emperors.

More details of Hall of Mental Cultivation.

While the emperors have their share of building where they lived and attended daily national affairs, the empresses an concubines have their share of buildings too – The Six Eastern Palaces (東六宫 Dong Liu Gong )and the Six Western Palaces (西六宫 Xi Liu Gong), which occupy the east and west side of the inner court respectively.

The Hall of Benevolence (景仁宫 Jingren Gong) is one of the palaces from the Six Eastern Palaces.  It has a huge piece of marble screen which is thought to be more than 700 years old.

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The Hall of Benevolence also holds a small exhibit for ancient artifacts.  The greenish pillow dates back to more than 1000 years ago from the Song Dynasty.

The Hall of Gathering Excellence (Chuxiu Gong 儲秀宫) is one of the palaces from the Six Western Palaces.  One famous Empress that lived here was Empress Dowager Cixi.  She spent her earlier days here as a lower ranking consort.  As she eventually made her way up and became the empress, she moved into Hall of Eternal Spring (長春宫 Changchun Gong),  During her 50th birthday, she moved back to Hall of Gathering Excellence again.

Hall of Eternal Spring.

If you have sufficient time, do visit some of the other exhibits like the Clocks & Watches Gallery, the Antiquarian and many others that require a separate entrance ticket.

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The Clocks and Watches Gallery is superb, where 300 years old clocks and watches come in all forms from all over the world.  Some have waterworks, some have robotic movements, some sing and some use the law of gravity to power movement.

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The antiquarian houses ancient treasures of the imperial family.

Some of the galleries like the one exhibiting the artifacts from weddings of Qing Dynasty is inclusive in the admission fee without additional charges.

Throughout the palace, there’s 308 copper and iron vats where water was stored to put out any fire.  The vats manufactured during different dynasties look different too.   The one in the picture was manufactured in the Qing Dynasty and it has two beasts on it whereas the ones manufactured in the Ming Dynasty is simpler looking. During winter months, a blanket is used to cover the vats or charcoal was used to heat up the water to prevent freezing.

The Forbidden City is really such a fascinating place to wander about.  Sometimes we got lost in the lanes.  If you have any particular halls or galleries you would like to visit, you should check out the Palace Museum’s Official Website, which has recommended routes for 2 hours, half day and one day tour.  There’s some vendors selling maps of the Forbidden City at the entrance too (around RMB 5 but all in Chinese though).

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And finally, our last stop in the Forbidden City was the imperial garden.

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If you still have any energy left after the tour, cross the road and head over to Jingshan Park where you get to see stunning views of the Forbidden City, all of it under your eyes. It’s a bit of a climb up the hill but the view is rewarding.

If you decide to call it a day, turn either to the left or right of the exit, walk straight and turn in on the first lane you see.  You will be able to catch a bus that goes around the museum in loops and it will bring you back to the main entrance of the museum, close to the MRT station you came from.  Taxis aren’t allowed to stop in the area and there might be trishaw drivers who might try to scam you for a hefty amount to bring you back to the MRT station.

More Info
National Palace Official Website
Getting there : Tiananmen West MRT Station or Tiananmen East MRT Station




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