The Forbidden City and Jingshang Park
Gu Gong [故宫 in Chinese], the Forbidden City is a magnificent place to visit. It is beautiful in winter with snow covering grounds most of the day and rooftops early in the morning and dreadfully hot in summer with no shelter from the sun’s burning rays. What I do love about winter is after the wind, the skies are a wonderful blue colour…not so in summer!!
The Forbidden City was the imperial palace for twenty-four emperors during the Ming and Qing dynasties and it received its name as it was forbidden to enter without special permission of the emperor.
Construction of the palace complex began in 1407 and was completed fourteen years later in 1420, and the year after, China’s capital city was moved from Nanjing to Beijing.
It was said that a million workers were driven into long-term hard labor to build the Forbidden City. The stone was quarried from other far away districts and I recall during my first visit in 1989, my student tour guide told me that a well was dug every fifty metres along the road in order to pour water onto the road in winter to slide huge stones on ice into the city.
For security the Forbidden City is enclosed by a 10-meter-high defensive wall and at each corner, there stands a watchtower, which, in the past was heavily guarded and around the city there is a moat which was used as the first line of defence.
Since yellow is the symbol of the royal family, it is the dominant color in the city. Roofs are built with yellow glazed tiles; decorations in the palace are painted yellow; even the bricks on the ground are made yellow by a special process. However, there is one exception – the royal library which has a black roof as it was believed black represented water and could extinguish fire.
The Forbidden City covers an area of about 178 acres with a total floor space of approximately 150,000 square metres. It consists of 90 palaces and courtyards, 980 buildings and 8,704 rooms. (statistics from Wikipedia)
Walking inside the concrete grounds of the city, there are beautifully painted eves and roofs, lovely wooden doors and lengthy corridors – so easy to get lost in this huge city.
The city is divided into two parts; the outer section where emperor exercised his power over the country and the inner court was where he lived with his family.
The majority of visitors enter the Forbidden City through Tian’anmen which is the Gate of Heavenly Peace. I always suggested to my visitors to visit Tian’anmen Square then walk under the road (Chang’an Jie) to the Gate of Heavenly Peace which is easy to spot with the large portrait of Chairman Mao hanging from the top of the entrance and numerous uniformed and plain clothes police securing the area.
After lining up with thousands of other visitors (try and get there when it opens at 10am) and paying your entry fee you will walk across an expansive brick-paved square to the main entrance to the palace. One of my friends visiting me in Beijing, arrived late and with a long wait in the sun to enter, he did not bother to wait – he still regrets his decision to this day!!
From here you will walk across Golden Stream Bridge, then you will arrive at the outer court.
The outer court is made up of three main buildings, the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the Hall of Central Harmony and the Hall of Preserving Harmony. These halls were where the emperors attended grand ceremonies and conducted state affairs.
Walking through the city can take hours and hours (or days if you wish to see everything) but it can be done in a few hours especially if it’s in the middle of summer.
The main exit gate of the Forbidden City is the Gate of Divine Might, behind the Imperial Garden. After you leave the city you can walk under the road to enter the gardens of Jingshan Park.
(view of Gate of Divine Might outside the Forbidden City)
Jingshan Park faces the north gate of the Forbidden City and is located on Jingshan Hill. During the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, the hill served as an imperial garden and in 1928 it was opened to the public. After 1949 the park was fully rebuilt with the paths paved and most of the buildings renovated.
Through the park, you can walk up the many steps, and there you will have a wonderful view of the rooftops of the entire Forbidden City (again not a great view if the pollution is high – so try and pick a blue sky day). I have been there on days of high pollution where you literally cannot see the roofs of the Forbidden City and other days where the sky is blue and you have magnificent views.