The Forbidden City of yore

Published: 04th October 2012 08:59 AM  |   Last Updated: 04th October 2012 08:59 AM   |  A+A-


From each era, one can see the footprints in the form of temples, palaces and fortified erections. Some of the world’s most greatest contribution to civilization such as the Great Wall, Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven are based in the ancient, capital city of China, Beijing.

Streets and lanes in Beijing run either from East to West or from North to South in a checker board pattern. This unique architectural layout centering on imperial power is considered rare not existing anywhere else in the world.

A visit to the city shows how many ancient buildings and historical relics have been preserved exquisitely for the coming generations. One of the greatest, largest and grandest palatial complexes in the world, the Forbidden City has been preserved well with constant conservation work. Even during my visit, I could see restoration of some painting work on the walls and the sloping golden roofs of the palace.

Beijing’s north-south central axis runs right through the Forbidden City, through the city’s front and rear gates. The imperial throne which can be seen only with great difficulty amidst the heavy, curious crowds is located in the Hall of Great Harmony and also sitting right on this central axis while other buildings stand symmetrically on both sides of the axis.

It is not possible to see the Forbidden City in just one or two days but needs more than a week to see the entire structure. It is one of the largest palaces I have ever seen and therefore, needs good walking shoes and lot of patience to understand the nuances and history behind each and every addition in this gigantic palace complex.

Now known as the “Palace Museum”, the Forbidden City was the imperial palace during the rule of Ming and Qing dynasties. Listed as a world cultural heritage site by UNESCO, the City is open to visitors and is the most popular tourist attractions worldwide. The palace complex is rectangular in shape and has the distinction of being the world’s largest palace complex, covering an area of 70 hectares. It is so huge that it houses 800 buildings with about 9000 rooms. It is surrounded by a six-metre-deep-moat and a 10-metre-high wall. Apart from this, there are unique delicately structured towers on each of the four corners of the curtain wall for ensuring safety and security.

The Forbidden City is divided into two parts. The Outer Court in the South is the place from where the emperor exercised his supreme power over the nation. This court comprises three main buildings: the Hall of Supreme Harmony, Hall of Central Harmony and the Hall of Preserving Harmony. The emperors conducted the state officers and held grand ceremonies from the outer court while the Inner Court in the North housed the royal family. 14 Emperors of the Ming dynasty and 10 of the Qing dynasty reigned from the Forbidden City till 1924.

The Palace Complex houses many treasures and curiosities of the two dynasties. It is estimated that one million workers were involved in its construction that began in 1407 and was completed in 1420. The magnificence of the palace complex clearly depicts the considerable skills of the ancient Chinese people in building the Forbidden City.

Yellow being the colour of the royal family is the dominant colour be it the roof, decorations or bricks. Serving as the emperor’s metropolis, the Forbidden City displays an extraordinary harmony between buildings and open spaces within a more or less symmetrical layout. Once enmeshed in ritualistic and religious concepts, the residence of the emperor was a purple city at the centre of the temporal world, symbolising joy and happiness and linked to divine forces of the universe.

Nearly all buildings face South, the direction of holiness, giving protection from cold winds as the chilling North represented evil spirits, icy winds and the wicked warriors from the steppes. The majesty of this purple walled city with its golden, yellow rooftops amidst the uniformly grey roofs for smaller hutongs must have been an extraordinary sight. The construction of the city started in 1406 in the fifth year of Yongle’s reign. It was completed in 14 years and an estimated one million workers and one lakh workers were involved. After being the home of 24 emperors of the Mings and Qings, right from 1420 till the last emperor Pu Yi abdicated in 1912, today the Forbidden City houses many treasures and curiosities.

Built of wood and bricks, it has stood the test of time. Every second year, this giant complex undergoes renovation including the painting of the wood work to protect it from fungal attacks and weathering. It is extremely different from the Indian palaces.

If you have the energy to walk from one Gate of the Forbidden city to the other one which is the historic Tianamen Gate, you can land up at the Tianamen Square. The Hollywood movie, “The Last Emperor was shot here”, one of the guides, Angela tell us. It is too tiring to walk along corridors and corridors of the palace and then climb up to see the various pavilions. Here one can see huge magnificient dragons sculpted out of a single rock at their entrances. The Forbidden City is just like the many Indian forts built by the Mughals but only on the exterior front as it is surrounded by a moat and interspersed with parks and gardens.

The Forbidden City is also flanked by Zhongshan Park on one side and also the working people’s cultural palace. Jingshan Park and Beihai Park are also located in these proximity. Forming a complex architectural group, it allows a visitor to get a peep into China’s ancient architecture and providing a remainder of the country’s history.


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