The Forbidden Palace
, also called the Forbidden City
(it was so huge it was like a city
on its own) was the seat of Chinese imperial
rule for over five centuries. Built in the Ming Dynasty
in the early 1400's, it took 14 years to complete, taking over 70 hectares of land
in the center of Dadu
). The palace
grounds are strictly off limits to commoners on the pain of death
, even the imperial family is restricted to a degree. Only the Son of Heaven
is allowed full access to all parts of the palace
The architecture of the compound is aligned on a north-south axis, like most of Beijing city. It conforms strictly with feng shui, all major buildings face the south to honor the Sun (Heaven). The layout is symbolic, building placement reflects on the omnipotence of the emperor and the insignificance of his subjects, as shown by the distance between the imperial buildings and the subordinate structures. Everything is arranged by rank, the height and roofing of a building designates the importance of the occupants.
The throne of the emperor is located in the Hall of Supreme Harmony, a beautiful structure that overlooks a massive plaza where thousands of his subjects are required to kneel and pay homage to the emperor every day. For an idea of how massive the ceremonies are, watch The Last Emperor. Behind the main hall is the Hall of Central Harmony and the Hall of Preserving Harmony, where the bureaucrats go around running their huge empire.
Much of the rest of the compound consists of living quarters and gardens for the emperor, there are even a couple private temples for him to meditate in. Here, the strict symmetry of the palace disintegrates, leaving Confucianism (business) for Taoism (relaxation). The imperial harem is here. Emperors used to have anything from 20 to 2000 concubines. Oy, the good old days (for him anyways)......
The palace was abandoned in 1911 when the Qing Dynasty was overthrown, and managed to survive the Civil War and the Japanese invasion. During those years, most people could enter the palace. When Mao Zedong took over, despite the claims of equality in communism, he turned it into a Forbidden Palace once again, his own personal playground, along with the Winter Palace. Just like the emperors, he had his harem here.
Now, this place is a major tourist site. It takes around a week to plow through the whole palace, with all the architecture, scenery and relics to discover. One of the better things to see in Beijing. The giant portrait of Mao hanging over the entrance ruins it though, in my opinion.