The Forbidden City, situated in the very heart of Beijing, was home to 24 emperors of the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) Dynasties.
The construction of the grand palace started in the fourth year of Emperor Yongle of the Ming Dynasty (1406), and ended in 1420.
In ancient times, the emperor was said to be a son of Heaven, and therefore Heaven’s supreme power was bestowed upon him. The emperors’ residence on earth was built as a replica of the Purple Palace where God was thought to live in Heaven.
Names: Such a divine place was certainly forbidden to ordinary people and that is why the Forbidden City is so named. Originally called Zijin Cheng (‘Purple Forbidden City’), in China now it is usually called Gugong (故宫 /goo-gong), the ‘Former/Old Palace’.
To represent the supreme power of the emperor given from God, and the place where he lived being the center of the world, all the gates, palace and other structures of the Forbidden City were arranged about the north-south central axis of old Beijing.
For security the Forbidden City is enclosed by a 10-meter-high defensive wall, which has a circumference of 3, 430 meters. At each corner of the Forbidden City, there stands a magnificent watchtower, which was heavily guarded in the past. Around the city there is a moat as the first line of defense. See our Forbidden City Map.
The Forbidden City covers an area of about 72 hectares (178 acres) with a total floor space of approximately 150,000 square meters (1,600,000 square feet). It consists of 90 palaces and courtyards, 980 buildings and 8,704 rooms.
A Typical Forbidden City Guided Tour
Any tour of Beijing would be incomplete without a visit to the Forbidden City. See the range of tours offered at China Highlights.
Most travelers enter the Forbidden City through Tian’anmen, the Gate of Heavenly Peace. Through the gate, across an expansive brick-paved square, you will reach the main entrance to the palace, Meridian Gate (Wumen in Chinese).
Meridian Gate was the place where the Emperor announced the new lunar calendar on the winter solstice. Enter through Meridian Gate, and go across Golden Stream Bridge, then you will arrive at the outer court. The Forbidden City falls into two parts: the outer court and the inner palaces.
The Outer Court
The outer court is made up of three main buildings, the Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihedian), the Hall of Central Harmony (Zhonghedian) and the Hall of Preserving Harmony (Baohedian). These halls were where the emperors attended the grand ceremonies and conducted state affairs.
The first hall waiting for you is the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the most important and largest structure in the Forbidden City. The emperors’ Dragon Throne (Longyi) is in this hall.
Behind the Hall of Supreme Harmony is the Hall of Central Harmony (Zhonghedian), the resting place of the emperor before presiding over grand events held in the Hall of Supreme Harmony. Emperors would rehearse their speeches and presentations here before departing to the Temple of Heaven for the sacrifice rites.
The last hall is the Hall of the Preserving Harmony used for banquets and later for imperial examinations.
There are a couple of side gardens with interesting halls to explore. Please consult with your local guide if you want to visit them. It will take more time to walk around the palace.
Out from the Hall of the Preserving Harmony, you will notice a huge block of marble carved with cloud and dragon designs. Go straight, and you will see another gate, called the Gate of Heavenly Peace (Qianqingmen). This is the main gateway to the inner living court.
The Inner Court
The inner court is composed of the three main structures at the rear of the Forbidden City, namely the Palace of Heavenly Peace (Qianqinggong), the Palace of Union and Peace (Jiaotaidian) and the Palace of Terrestrial Tranquility(Kunninggong).
The first structure inside the inner court is the Palace of Heavenly Peace, the emperors’ sleeping quarters. Behind it is the Palace of Union and Peace, where the imperial seals were stored. The third hall is the Hall of Terrestrial Tranquility, the emperors’ wedding room.
Besides the three main buildings there are the six eastern palaces and six western palaces, where the emperor used to handle everyday affairs, and which was the living quarters of the emperor, expresses and concubines. Those palaces have been converted into exhibition halls, where a spectacular set of imperial collections is displayed.
Exiting and going further north, travelers will find the Imperial Garden. The garden offers an aesthetic change from the crimson and gray building complex to a colorful and luxuriant atmosphere.
On the left side of the inner court, travelers will find the Mental Cultivation Hall (Yangxindian), the most important building except for the Hall of Supreme Harmony. From the time of the third emperor, Yongzheng, all the Qing emperors, 8 in total resided in this hall.
The main exit gate of the Forbidden City is the Gate of Divine Might, behind the Imperial Garden.