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The Forbidden City, Beijing

Updated on June 8, 2011
a painting of the Forbidden City, as seen in the Jade Garden Hotel, Beijing
a painting of the Forbidden City, as seen in the Jade Garden Hotel, Beijing

The Forbidden City

The Forbidden City, lying at the heart of Beijing, is one of China's most impressive sites to visit. Serving as the imperial palace during the Ming and Qing Dynasties, the Forbidden City stands today as the largest and best-preserved grouping of ancient buildings in the country. For over 500 years, the Forbidden City was off limits to anyone but the imperial family and those serving them — thus the name — but today it welcomes visitors from all over China and the world.

What to See

A tour of the Forbidden City will most likely take a whole day — possibly even several days. There are many impressive structures to see inside the walls of the Forbidden City. Just a casual walk from the main entrance in the south to the exit in the north of the compound, with pauses for pictures and viewing the main sites, will take some time. If you really want to explore the more intricate details, you'll need to allow two to three days at the least.

Some of the main things to observe as you make your way through the Forbidden City include:

1. Various gates, including the Meridian Gate in the south, the Divine Gate in the north, and the Gate of Supreme Harmony that overlooks a huge courtyard

2. Hall of Supreme Harmony — the largest and most important structure inside the walls of the Forbidden City, home of the Dragon Throne

3. Hall of Middle Harmony, just behind the Hall of Supreme Harmony

4. Hall of Preserving Harmony, where many generations of young, hopeful Chinese men sat for the Imperial Exams

5. Palace of Heavenly Purity and the Hall of Union, lying just behind the three "Harmony Halls"

6. The Imperial Garden — 7000 square meters of classical Chinese gardening

7. The Hall of Mental Cultivation and the Yikun Palace — both of these halls are amongst the most authentic rooms remaining in the whole complex, meaning they are a little worn, but all the more worth seeing for that

These structures all lie along the north-south axis that defines the Forbidden City. Along the edges, you can also visit various rooms that once served as living quarters, libraries, temples, entertainment centers, and gardens for the imperial family. Many of these structures now serve as mini-museums to highlight specific aspects of the royal life during the Ming and Qing eras. Worth visiting are the Clock Exhibition Hall, the Hall of Jewelry, the Hall of Joyful Longevity, the Hall of Character Cultivation, and the Changyin Pavilion. If you have plenty of time, it is worth making your way slowly through all of the structures along the perimeter of the Forbidden City, discovering the little treasures housed in each.

The Moat

Also worthy of note at the Forbidden City is the moat which encircles it. Made as another security measure to keep the imperial family safe, the moat also served to beautify the surrounding area, for the earth excavated in the construction of the moat was used to create Jingshan, the man-made hill to the north of the Forbidden City. As you walk northward in the Forbidden City, Jingshan comes more and more clearly into view, creating delightful scenes to take in from the various terraces inside the imperial grounds.

The hill was originally thought to protect the imperial city from the evil spirits lying to the north — which is also why buildings in China have always traditionally been built with a south-facing entrance. Today, the hill serves as a nice spot to scale for the sake of the panoramic views it offers of the Forbidden City.

©2010 Shelly Bryant


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    • Shelly Bryant profile image

      Shelly Bryant 6 years ago from Singapore and/or Shanghai

      Hi onetourchina — I've always loved that aspect of the Forbidden City. It's an amazing thing about Chinese landscaping, in both the north and south, how they make use of the "extras" to build an important feature within the grounds.

      My pictures on the north side didn't turn out very good — blocked by lots of tourists. But you are right, that's the best view!

    • onetourchina profile image

      onetourchina 6 years ago from Beijing, CN

      You mentioned the moat surrounded the Forbidden City, that's great! Almost everyone viewed the vast construction field and the City's architecture but ignored its guard - the Imperial Moat. Photoed on the best point from north gate of Forbidden City, the wide water face would show you its best appearance.

    • Shelly Bryant profile image

      Shelly Bryant 6 years ago from Singapore and/or Shanghai

      Thanks Genna! Glad you enjoyed.

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 6 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Fascinating hub; very informative and interesting at the same time about the Forbidden City.

    • Shelly Bryant profile image

      Shelly Bryant 7 years ago from Singapore and/or Shanghai

      Thanks BkCreative! It really is fun to travel around China, isn't it? It's a huge country with such a long history — it seems impossible to exhaust all the travel options for even one city.

      Thanks for popping by and leaving a comment.

    • BkCreative profile image

      BkCreative 7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Thanks for the lovely hub. I had the pleasure of visiting Beijing in 2007 - it did not disappoint. And there is so much to do you just have to go again and again.

      Nice hub - thanks a million!

    • Shelly Bryant profile image

      Shelly Bryant 7 years ago from Singapore and/or Shanghai

      Thanks, sherrylou! I like visiting Beijing, but think I prefer staying in the southern parts of China to actually living up there. Still, the Forbidden City is very much worth visiting. I've been a few times, and still would like to go back again. You can really spend a long time wandering around there, exploring and enjoying.

    • sherrylou57 profile image

      sherrylou57 7 years ago from Riverside

      Some day, I would like to see Beijing, thank you for sharing this with us.