The Forbidden City

The first stop on my weekend trip to Beijing was the Forbidden City.

The Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial seat of power from the Ming Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty. It is really is a “city” rather than a palace. It is huge and contains hundreds of buildings, and in three hours I was only able to cover part of it. This article presents only a small sampling of what I saw.

The Forbidden City is surrounded by a moat and walls, with towers at the corners:

Inside the walls are a patchwork of courts and buildings, of which Hall of Supreme Harmony is the largest and most iconic:

The people in the crowd (which is relatively modest for China) should provide some sense of scale for the size of the buildings and the courtyard. At this scale, the architecture seems relatively streamlined and spare, but a closer look reveals intricate details in the buildings, as well as the networks of stairways and paths.

The above architectural details are more intense, in terms of color and complexity, than those I had seen previously in the other cities. Other imperial and religious buildings in Beijing share a similar style.

Views such as this may be recognizable to some readers who have seen documentaries, or films like The Last Emperor. Another image I did recall from seeing film many years ago was the imperial throne:


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It was actually a challenge to get a good look at the throne or other significant building interiors, much less attempt to photograph them, because of the ubiquitous crowds:

One could escape from the crowds for a bit by staying out in the middle of the courtyards, or venturing into the maze of side buildings. Wandering the side areas was quite interesting, around a narrow corridor one could easily find another whole court and buildings, “palaces within palaces”, such as Palace of Heavenly Purity with it’s golden lions in front:


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Tucked inside the warren of side courts were numerous gardens, similar to those I saw in Suzhou and Wuxi. Some were similarly small an intimate, and seemed like pleasant oases. There was also the imperial garden, which contained this rather large rockery topped by a pavilion (closed to the public), which like it could be at home in a Lord of the Rings movie as much as a Chinese imperial palace.

Scattered throughout the complex were numerous statues, such as the lions protecting palace, entrances and dragons, and other artifacts from the imperial courts:


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I would have liked to try out those bells.

At the southern entrance is Tiananmen Gate, which now bears the portrait of Chairman Mao:

I of course could not resist having Zip pose for a “Mao and mao” photo (one of a few I have taken during my trips to China).


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3 thoughts on “The Forbidden City

  1. Wow. Great pics! This post should be in the travel section, and China should pay you for advertising. :)

    Ah Zip. Haven’t seen him in such a long time. Is he enjoying the trip?

    Thanks for sharing your trip, Amar.

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