Forbidden City General Information

The Forbidden City covers an area of 72 hectares (178 acres) with a total floor space of about 163,000 square meters. It is rectangular in shape, 960 meters long from north to south, and 750 meters wide from east to west, surrounded with a 10-meter high city wall and encircled by a 52-meter wide moat. At each comer of the surrounding wall, there is a magnificent watchtower, which was heavily guarded in the old days. Each of the four watchtowers has 9 beams, 18 pillars and 72 ridgepoles. All the numbers are related to the number 9 or multiples of 9, and the three numbers added together equal 99. What a magnificent structure we Chinese people created!

Most of the structures in the Forbidden City were made of wood with white marble, stone or brick foundations. The building materials were from many parts of our country. The timber came from Sichuan, Guizhou, Guangxi, Hunan and Yunnan provinces in southwest China, but in the Qing Dynasty, the timber was transported from northeast China; The stones and marble were quarried from nearby hills in Fangshan District, 70 kilometers (43. 5 miles) southwest of Beijing and Hebei Province; the bricks used for building the walls were brought from Shandong Province, while the bricks for laying floors inside the Halls of the Forbidden City were “Gold Bricks” specially baked in Suzhou, a city south of the Yangtze River, Jiangsu Province. There were altogether 230, 000 artisans and one million civilians involved in building the Forbidden City. It was really a huge construction and a hard job for the Chinese laboring people.
Talking about the rooms and buildings in the Forbidden City, the popular saying is that there were 9,999 and a half room in the Forbidden City. Because the “Heavenly Palace” for the God of Heaven had 10, 000 rooms, the emperor on the earth didn’t dare to compare himself with the God of Heaven. Therefore, the number of rooms in the Imperial Palace was a half room less. The half room is at the western side of the Wenyuan Pavilion, the Imperial Library, which is on the east side of the outer court of the Forbidden City. But the fact is that, according to the records in 1937, the Forbidden City now consists of more than 90 palaces and courtyards, 980 buildings with rooms of 8,704. However, such a big complex with so many buildings and rooms doesn’t have a disordered appearance in any way or give people a disordered impression; instead, the whole complex looks imposing and stately with a harmonious, neat and fine layout. The main reason is that all the main buildings in the Forbidden City were built along the central north-south axis, while this whole complete group of structures was built along the old Beijing City’s north-south axis.

The Forbidden City can be divided into two parts: the Outer Court and the Inner Palace. The Outer Court consists of three main buildings in the front part of the Forbidden City. This was the place where the emperors attended the grand ceremonies and conducted state affairs; while the Inner Palace is composed of the rear three main buildings and the six eastern palaces and six western palaces, and was the place where the emperor used to handle daily affairs and it was the living quarters for the emperor, empress and imperial concubines.

The Forbidden City was built along the north-south axis of Beijing, with the Dominating Hill” or “Prospect Hill” at the back, the Altar of Land and Grain (Shejitan) to its west and the Supreme Ancestral Temple (Taimiao) on its east. It consists of a high surrounding wall, a wide city moat and many palatial-style buildings.

The layout of the Forbidden City is generally designed to the principles of a “Front Court and Rear Palace,” which means “the front court for state affairs and the rear palace as the living quarters.”

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