Exploring The Forbidden City Of The Middle Kingdom

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Beijing’s famous Forbidden City was the seat of imperial power for 500 years, and is now a major tourist attraction, known officially as the Imperial Palace Museum. The palace was commissioned by the third emperor of the Ming Dynasty, Emperor Yong Le, and was built between 1406 and 1420. Since then it has been burned down, rebuilt, ransacked, and renovated countless times. Most of the architecture you see today dates from the 1700s onwards.

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Did you know it’s called the Forbidden City because in the old days of imperial rule, no one could enter or leave the complex without the emperor’s permission? The Forbidden City complex is 720,000 square metres, and consists of 980 surviving buildings and almost 9,000 rooms. The complex houses priceless collections of artwork and artefacts. Declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 due to its significant place in the development of Chinese architecture and culture, the Forbidden City is one of the must-see sites in China’s capital.

If you ever get the chance to visit, here are some interesting notes for those unfamiliar with ancient Chinese history and culture.

1. Walking through the complex you will see a lot of carvings and reliefs of dragon and phoenix. The dragon represents the emperor, while the phoenix symbolizes the empress.

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2. Most of the roofs feature yellow-glazed tiles. This is because yellow is the colour of the emperor.

3. The sloping ridges of the roofs are decorated with a line of statuettes led by a man riding a phoenix and followed by an imperial dragon. The more statuettes you see, the more important the building. Most minor buildings will have three to five statuettes; the Hall of Supreme Harmony has 10.

4. The Palace Museum within the complex houses some 50,000 paintings, 340,000 pieces of ceramic and porcelain, 10,000 pieces of bronzeware, 30,000 pieces of jade, and more than 1,000 mechanical timepieces.

5. In the Hall of Union you’ll find a water clock made in 1745 called a clepsydra. It was crafted with five bronze vessels and a calibrated scale. The Hall of Clocks and Watches is also nearby.

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Further Reading:
http://www.dpm.org.cn/index1280800.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forbidden_City
http://www.lonelyplanet.com/china/beijing/sights/other/forbidden-city

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