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Forbidden City
Beijing, China
A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987.
Listed by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world.

On this page, below:

Brief history



Building details

Outdoor sculptures

Brief History
Excerpts -
(Online Jan. 2014)

The Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty [1368–1644]  to the end of the Qing [pronounced as ching] Dynasty [1644–1912]. It is located in the centre of Beijing, China, and now houses the Palace Museum. For almost 500 years, it served as the home of emperors and their households, as well as the ceremonial and political center of Chinese government.

"Forbidden" referred to the fact that no one could enter or leave the palace without the emperor's permission.

Built in 1406 to 1420, the complex consists of 980 buildings.

Construction lasted 14 years and required more than a million workers. Material used include whole logs of precious Phoebe zhennan wood found in the jungles of south-western China, and large blocks of marble from quarries near Beijing.

After being the home of 24 emperors – 14 of the Ming Dynasty and 10 of the Qing Dynasty – the Forbidden City ceased being the political centre of China in 1912 with the abdication of Puyi, the last Emperor of China.


Taihedian (Hall of Supreme Harmony).
The largest surviving wooden structure in China.
 "Sitting on a three-tier marble terrace, the grandest timber framework ever in China. The hall was first built in 1406 and later repaired many times. As the heart of the Forbidden City, the so-called Golden Carriage Palace, used to be the place where emperors received high officials and practiced their rule over the nation. Also grand ceremonies would be held to celebrate new emperor's ascending to the throne, emperors' birthdays and wedding ceremonies and other important occasions such as Winter Solstice, the Chinese New Year and dispatching generals into war fields. Since the Hall of Supreme Harmony was the symbol of imperial power, it was the highest structure in the Ming and Qing dynasties in the nation, no other buildings allowed higher than it." - (online Jan. 2014)


Note dragon finials (detail in next photo below) and alligator head scuppers (detailed below the dragon finials in the next photo below).

Dragon finial.  Note upside down head of dragon above the curved, scaly body.

Alligator scupper.  (Cf. gargoyles)

Alligator scuppers


Wumen (Tiananmen/The Meridian Gate/Gate of Heavenly Peace).
Entrance to the Imperial City ... After touring Tiananmen Square, tourists can walk through the Tianmenmen Tower (Gate of Heavenly Peace) to the Duanmen Gate.

Note flying eaves ... See Classical Chinese Buildings.

"Since Chinese emperors believed that they were sons of Heaven and should live in the center of the universe, and they believed the Meridian Line went through the Forbidden City, the gate was named so. The grand gate, consisting of five openings, is the largest gate and main gate of the Forbidden City...  There were strict rules to follow when people enter the Forbidden City. Entering through the central opening was the emperors' exclusive privilege, while their empresses were allowed to go through the opening once on their wedding day. The top three in the national examinations, presided by emperors on the final stage, would be honored to strut through the arched hole after receiving emperors' interview. The east opening was for the ministers while the west opening was for the royal family. The other openings were for petty officials. Ordinary people were forbidden to enter the city." - (online Jan. 2014)

Taihedian (Hall of Supreme Harmony).
The largest surviving wooden structure in China.

The color red had the power to stop the winds of bad luck from seeping into the building.

In the Imperial Garden (note rocks)

Note ridge sculptures

Building details
(in no particular order)

Ridge sculptures.
"Since yellow is the symbol of the royal family, it is the dominant color in the Forbidden City. Roofs are built with yellow glazed tiles; decorations in the palace are painted yellow; even the bricks on the ground are made yellow in special process." - (online Jan. 2014)

Ridge sculptures.

Ridge sculptures

The color red had the power to stop the winds of bad luck from seeping into the building.

Dougong support structure

Dougong support structure

Tile-ends ... Unpainted dougong

Note two dragons

Outdoor Sculptures

Left: Dragon clutching sun (Detail in next photo below).
Right: Deer.

Detail - Dragon clutching flaming pearl(?)


Male guardian lion

Turtle - with dragon's head -  symbolizing longevity.
On the terrace, which was luxuriously balustraded, a bronze crane and a bronze tortoise can be seen. They were put there to expect everlasting rule and longevity.

"On the terrace of the main hall, Tai He Dian, are two tortoises or turtle-looking beasts. These are Bei Xi, (pronounced bay shee) though to the uninitiated the only feature that is not typical of a tortoise is the head, which is fiercely dragon-like. The Bei Xi, was considered a son of the dragon, and loves to bear heavy weights. Tortoises and turtles were believed to live for many hundreds of years. (The Chinese had only one name for the both.) . The dome shaped back of the turtle and the tortoise was taken to represent the universe or the heavens, and it was believed that the upper vaulted part of its shell had markings corresponding to the constellations." -  Roy Bates, The Forbidden City - A Brief Introduction (online Jan. 2014)

"In contrast to the Phoenix, the crane is widely celebrated in Chinese legends. It is reputed to be the patriarch of the feathered kingdom, and is endowed with many mythical attributes. It reaches a fabulous age, and hence it is a common emblem of longevity. There are said to be four kinds, black, yellow, white and blue, of which the black is said to be the longest lived.  It was also believed that after death the souls of worthy persons would be conveyed on the back of a crane to the Isles of the Immortals so that they could enjoy eternal life in these regions of bliss." - Roy Bates, The Forbidden City - A Brief Introduction (online Jan. 2014)

Yuhuayuan (the Imperial Garden), which was built in 1417 in the Ming Dynasty. The rectangular garden covers an area of about 12,000 square meters and was the private garden of the imperial family. It was the most typical imperial garden in China.

Rock sculpture

Photos and their arrangement 2013 Chuck and Nancy LaChiusa
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