The Secrets of the Forbidden City

Beijing

Throughout the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the Imperial Palace (Gùgōng) was off-limits to the outside world for over 500 years. Its fortified walls and intimidating moat gave it an air of mystery and its name, the Forbidden City (紫禁城, Zǐ Jìn Chéng). These days, it has become the Palace Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The gates have opened and people can appreciate the stories and riches held within. Visit between November 1 and March 31 for the best experience; Chinese Summer Vacation (July 1 to August 31), national holidays, and traditional Chinese holidays draw bigger crowds. The mecca of cultural artifacts can get really overwhelming, so our rule of thumb is to steer along the Forbidden City’s Center Axis. We’ve included a few side palaces and essential stops too!

Updated a year ago

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Meridian Gate

午门

Beijing, China, People's Republic • Recommendation • a year ago

Kick off your Imperial Palace exploration at the Meridian Gate Gallery! The Meridian Gate (午门, Wu Men) looms high above pedestrians, perfectly capturing the impressive complex awaiting inside. During important occasions, the Emperor would give his announcements from the middle balcony. The central arch was also exclusively for his entrance only, while a lucky few used the other four side arches. Upon entering, keep in mind that this mega mini-city was the seat of power to an entire empire. Between 1406 and 1420, the Yongle Emperor (otherwise known as Zhu Di or Chengzu) commanded its construction. He pooled resources from the far reaches of the region and drafted 100,000 artisans and around a million laborers.

+861085007427

Forbidden City, 4 Jingshan Front Street, Dongcheng Qu, Beijing Shi, China

北京市东城区景山前街4号 邮政编码: 100006

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Hall of Literary Brilliance (Calligraphy and Painting Gallery)

文华殿

Beijing, China, People's Republic • Recommendation • a year ago

The Hall of Literary Brilliance (文华殿, Wenhua Dian), once a palace for the crown prince and resthouse for the Emperor, has shifted into the Calligraphy and Painting Gallery! Stroll through vital historical periods in the country as told by illustrated scrolls and valuable scripts. No need to turn the page, simply walk through the hall and see the stories unfold! The Gallery celebrates the Ming Dynasty’s paper-related traditions. The era was a prosperous time for trade and culture (drama, literature, and ceramics). In those days, affordable books became available to commoners in the form of references, religious texts, and Confucian literature. It also saw the rise of full-length novels and the preservation of ancient oral traditions through prose.

+861085007421

Forbidden City, 4 Jingshan Front Street, Dongcheng Qu, Beijing Shi, China

北京市东城区景山前街4号 邮政编码: 100006

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Hall of Martial Valor (Ceramics Gallery)

武英殿

Beijing, China, People's Republic • Recommendation • a year ago

West of the Central Axis, the Hall of Martial Valor (武英殿, Wuying Dian) perfectly mirrors and complements the Hall of Literary Brilliance. It served multiple uses: a studio for a court painter and the Emperor’s quarters where he met with officials. Starting from the reign of Qing Dynasty Emperor Kangxi, the hall became the center for culture and academy. It was a publishing workshop where workers printed special “Hall Edition” books using carved wooden blocks. Now it celebrates another cultural legacy: pottery! Find the Ceramics Gallery chock full of fine china. Porcelain was a beloved export of the Ming Dynasty, reaching as far as Europe. It was made with ground clay and baked until slightly translucent. Detailed patterns were painted on by hand. Each painstaking step paid off because now each piece is a precious part of the exhibit.

+861085007421

Forbidden City, 4 Jingshan Front Street, Dongcheng Qu, Beijing Shi, China

北京市东城区景山前街4号 邮政编码: 100006

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Hall of Supreme Harmony

太和殿

Beijing, China, People's Republic • Wishlist • a year ago

Right at the heart of the Central Axis, the Outer Court rises in three essential structures: the Hall of Supreme Harmony (太和殿, Tai He Dian), the Hall of Central Harmony (中和殿, Zhong He Dian), and Hall of Preserved Harmony (保和殿, Bao Be Dian). Fun fact: they’ve survived earthquakes without nails or glue anywhere in the structure. The City was built like a puzzle with strategic wooden beams absorbing any seismic activity. The Hall of Supreme Harmony and other edifices in the complex are elaborately adorned with dragons. It was the symbol of the reigning monarch and culminated in the golden Dragon Throne (龙椅, Long Yi). Back then, you would have to kneel low on the ground (kowtow) in reverence. Now, you can just bask in its full view in appreciation amidst the throng of tourists.

+861085007421

Forbidden City, 4 Jingshan Front Street, Dongcheng Qu, Beijing Shi, China

北京市东城区景山前街4号 邮政编码: 100006

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Nine-Dragon Screen

九龙壁

Beijing, China, People's Republic • Recommendation • a year ago

Venture away from the Central Axis northeast to one of Forbidden City’s most popular stops: the Nine-Dragon Screen (九龙壁, Jiǔ Lóng Bì). Take a panoramic shot of the nine differently colored beasts. His Imperial Excellency is right in the middle and rendered in yellow. You will see the golden hue on the City’s many roofs and the monarch’s robes. Yellow was a symbol of power and prosperity reserved solely for the Emperor. Nine-Dragon Screens are a typical feature in palaces and gardens. They serve to add privacy from the outside world and ward off against spirits. The Forbidden City’s Nine-Dragon Screen was built in 1771, rising right in front of the Palace of Tranquil Longevity. Though it’s set in stone, the tableau is full of movement: the curling dragon bodies and crashing waves.

+861085007421

Forbidden City, 4 Jingshan Front Street, Dongcheng Qu, Beijing Shi, China

北京市东城区景山前街4号 邮政编码: 100006

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Palace of Tranquil Longevity (Treasure Gallery)

寧壽宮

Beijing, China, People's Republic • Recommendation • a year ago

From trinkets encrusted in pearls and precious stones to miniatures cast intricately in gold, the Treasure Gallery is a trove of unimaginable riches! This area was originally known as the Palace of Tranquil Longevity (寧壽宮, Ningshou Gong). Now, it hosts the opera gallery and Treasure Gallery. Bask in the glow of luxurious artifacts left behind by the noble residents of the Forbidden City. There are carvings, clothing, and jewels to peruse in the six-gallery display. The additional ticket purchase (around RMB10) is totally worth it!

+861085007421

Forbidden City, 4 Jingshan Front Street, Dongcheng Qu, Beijing Shi, China

北京市东城区景山前街4号 邮政编码: 100006

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Palace of Heavenly Purity

乾清宫

Beijing, China, People's Republic • Wishlist •

Deeper into the Forbidden City, we arrive at the Inner Court where the Palace of Heavenly Purity (乾清宫, Qian Qing Gong) housed the sovereign ruler during his most intimate moments. It was the private residence of the monarch where very few people had access. Later on, it served as an audience hall for the Qing Dynasty when the Yongzheng Emperor opted to inhabit another palace instead. A throne and desk stand in the middle of the Palace where the Emperor would pore over official documents

+861085007421

Forbidden City, 4 Jingshan Front Street, Dongcheng Qu, Beijing Shi, China

北京市东城区景山前街4号 邮政编码: 100006


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Hall of Union

交泰殿

Beijing, China, People's Republic • Wishlist •

Between the Palace of Heavenly Purity and the Palace of Earthly Tranquility, a relatively small edifice called the Hall of Union (交泰殿, Jiao Tai Dian) stands. The Emperor was considered a “Son of Heaven,” so the balance of heaven and earth was a principal feature to represent in the Imperial Palace. It has maintained its importance, keeping ceremonial items under its protection. Find a 300-year old, six-meter tall water clock that once set the official time for the entire City!

+861085007421

Forbidden City, 4 Jingshan Front Street, Dongcheng Qu, Beijing Shi, China

北京市东城区景山前街4号 邮政编码: 100006


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Palace of Earthly Tranquility

坤宁宫

Beijing, China, People's Republic • Wishlist •

During the Ming Dynasty, the Palace of Earthly Tranquility (坤宁宫, Kunning Gong) was the Empress’ living quarters. Eunuchs would also spend much time here as they watched over these women. Later on, in the Qing Dynasty, it served two polar functions. First, as the bridal chamber where undoubtedly some life was conceived; second, as a venue of sacrificial offerings to the deities of Shamanism. Seek traces of these interesting times yourself as you walk through the City’s most private chambers.

+861085007421

Forbidden City, 4 Jingshan Front Street, Dongcheng Qu, Beijing Shi, China

北京市东城区景山前街4号 邮政编码: 100006

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Imperial Garden

御花园

Beijing, China, People's Republic • Wishlist •

Walk in the footsteps of nobility in the Imperial Garden (御花园, Yu Hua Yuan). Its 400-year old trees have kept shade over the Emperor’s personal retreat where pavilions, sculptures, and rock features have provided a tranquil oasis. The garden has withstood centuries-worth of changing seasons and outlived even the Palace residents. Indulge in some post-tour musing with the picturesque flora as your backdrop. The Imperial Garden is the northmost point of the Central Axis and the last stop within the Forbidden City. Circle back to any points you want to explore further or exit by Gate of Divine Prowess (神武門, Shenwu Men)!

+861085007421

Forbidden City, 4 Jingshan Front Street, Dongcheng Qu, Beijing Shi, China

北京市东城区景山前街4号 邮政编码: 100006

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