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Forbidden City

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Travel Guide Asia China Beijing Forbidden City

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Introduction

Forbidden City

Forbidden City

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The Forbidden City located in Beijing was the home of the Emperor and the Imperial Chinese government for almost five centuries. The site was orginally just an Imperial City of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368). After the fall of the Mongols, the emperor of the newly established Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), Hongwu Emperor, moved the capital from Beijing in the north to Nanjing in the south, and ordered that the Yuan palaces be burnt down. When his son Zhu Di became the Yongle Emperor, he moved the capital back to Beijing, and construction began in 1406 of what would become the Forbidden City. Contructed in 15 years by more than a million workers, this is one of the most amazing palaces in the world with thousands of rooms facing dozens of major courtyards. Remember to take some time to relax and enjoy the nice gardens, explore the side chambers that few visitors go to see and walk on the royal highway down the center of the Forbidden City.

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Sights and Actitivies

Inside the Forbidden City

  • Outer Court (外朝). The imposing set of buildings designed to be the ceremonial centre of the palace. Visitors enter through Meridian Gate (A), the imposing main gate with unique protruding side wings, followed by the Gate of Supreme Harmony (F), where the Emperor sometimes held court. There are then three grand halls set on a multi-tiered marble platform, including the Hall of Supreme Harmony (G), which was the ceremonial throne room used for the grandest of state occasions. To preserve the fine paving stones, it is no longer possible to enter the halls, but you can admire the interiors from the front door.
  • Paintings and Calligraphy Gallery - Hall of Military Eminence (武英殿). Somewhat ironically, this set of buildings (H) built to celebrate military valour now houses the Palace Museum's paintings and calligraphy gallery. Works from the Palace Museum's extensive collection are rotated through the gallery and changed every few months. To reach the Hall of Military Eminence, go through the gate on the left after the Meridian Gate but before going through the Gate of Supreme Harmony.
  • Porcelain and Ceramics - Hall of Literary Glory (文华殿). This mini-palace (J) was variously used as the Crown Prince's court and an imperial Confucian lecture hall. It now houses the Palace Museum's porcelain and ceramics gallery. The gallery's exhibits trace through the development of Chinese porcelain, and includes items from the large imperial collection held by the Palace Museum. To reach the Hall of Literary Glory, go through the gate on the right after the Meridian Gate but before going through the Gate of Supreme Harmony.
  • Inner Palace (内廷). Form the Outer Court, the central section of the Inner Palace is accessed through the Gate of Heavenly Purity. The Inner Palace, like the Outer Court, is centred on three main buildings. The grandest, the Palace of Heavenly Purity (L) was designed to house the Emperor's bed chamber, but later became a throne room where the Emperor held court with his ministers. The Palace of Earthly Tranquillity was designed to be the Empress' bed chamber, but later became a Shamanist shrine. The Emperor and Empress' marital suite, where they spent their wedding night, is in this building. To the west of this main complex, the much smaller Hall of Mental Cultivation (N) was in later years the Emperor's actual bedchamber and office. You can even see where the Empress Dowager Cixi ruled China from behind a curtain for 47 years. The remainder of the Inner Palace is made up of a series of small courtyards, the homes of the Emperor's concubines and household. Look out for the "Crystal Palace", a cast iron and glass building of which sadly only the skeleton remains. The Palace Museum's Bronzeware Gallery is also in the Inner Palace. Other permanent and temporary exhibitions are also housed around the Inner Palace.
  • Treasures Gallery - Palace of Tranquil Longevity (宁寿宫). A palace in itself with its own "Outer Court", "Inner Palace" and "Imperial Garden", this complex (O) was designed for the Qianlong Emperor to enjoy his retirement after abdication - but he was too busy giving his son instructions on government to ever use it. Look for the glaze-tiled Nine Dragon Screen in front of the main entrance. These buildings now house the Palace Museum's Treasures Gallery (珍宝馆), which includes works in precious metals and precious or semi-precious stones. A separate admission charge applies. The Stone Drum Gallery, which houses a set of ancient drum-shaped stone carvings, and the Theatre Gallery, housed in a traditional Chinese-style outdoor theatre, are also in this complex. The mini-Palace Garden, while smaller than the main garden, is more finely decorated with some small but elaborate garden buildings. ¥10.
  • Clocks Gallery - Hall of Ancestral Offerings (奉先殿). Originally a shrine for making offerings to ancestors, this set of buildings on the eastern side of the Inner Palace now houses the Palace Museum's clocks display, the major portion of which are elaborate European-style mechanical clocks - including a calligraphy-writing automaton! Demonstrations are held at 11:00 and 14:00, where some of the fanciest clocks in the collections are put on show. Separate admission charge applies. ¥10.
  • Palace Garden (御花园). The Palace's main garden is among the smallest of Beijing's imperial gardens, but the emperors have managed to pack a lot of pavilions, ponds, trees and ornamental rocks into the space. It would be a nice place to relax after your tour of the Forbidden City, if it weren't packed with thousands of tourists with exactly the same idea. The Palace Garden leads in the north to the Gate of Divine Might, the north gate and exit of the Forbidden City.

Outside the forbidden City

  • Wall, moat and corner towers - The Forbidden City's imposing walls and tranquil moat can only be admired from outside the complex. As you leave the Forbidden City, the corner towers (E) are well worth seeing for their elaborate roof structure, modelled on mythical "ideal" pavilions in Chinese art.
  • Imperial Ancestral Temple (太庙) (Walk east from Tiananmen gate). 08:00-22:00. This is one of the grandest temple complexes in Beijing, often forgotten by visitors keen to get to or from the nearby Forbidden City. The temple complex is located to the east of the ceremonial way leading from Tiananmen Square to Meridian Gate. This was where the Emperor performed rites to honour his own ancestors. Sadly, much of the interior, including the ancestral tablets, were destroyed by Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution, and the main building now serves as a museum of musical instruments. The park surrounding the temple is called the "Labouring People's Cultural Palace". The main gate is on East Chang'an Avenue, east of Tiananmen Gate, but the park also has side and back gates. The main halls of the temple are in the same style and on a similar scale to the main halls of the Forbidden City itself but has fewer tourists, so it is a popular destination for photographers, especially wedding photographers. ¥15 (park and temple); ¥2 (park only).
  • Altar of Land and Grain (社稷坛) (Walk west from Tiananmen gate). 08:00-22:00. Located west of the ceremonial way leading from Tiananmen Square to Meridian Gate in a mirrored position to the Imperial Ancestral Temple, the Emperor came to this altar to venerate the land of his empire, rather than his family. The park surrounding the temple is called Zhongshan Park. There are fewer grand buildings here, but the gardens and greenhouses are famed for their flowers, which are on show year-round. ¥3 (park); ¥5 (inner gardens); seasonal prices apply during flowering season.
  • Upright Gate (端门) (Walk north from Tiananmen gate). The Upright Gate is located between Tiananmen gate and the Meridian Gate, along the ceremonial way. It is nearly identical to Tiananmen gate, and is also open to the public.

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Opening Hours

The Forbidden City is open Tuesday through Sunday all year round, and on national holidays that fall on Mondays, and is open every day during the summer vacation period (1 July to 31 August). Hours as follows:

  • 1 April – 31 October: 8:30 to 17:00 Last entry to museum galleries: 16:10 Last tickets are sold at 16:00.
  • Summer vacation (in year 2014: 5 July to 24 August) hours: 8:00 to 17:00 Last entry to museum galleries: 16:10 Last tickets are sold at 16:00.
  • 1 November – 31 March: 8:30 to 16:30 Last entry to museum galleries: 15:40 Last tickets are sold at 15:30.

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Cost

1 April – 31 October: ¥60; 1 November – 31 March: ¥40.

1. For entrance to the Treasures Gallery (including the Stone Drum Gallery) and to the Clocks Gallery, additional 10-yuan tickets are required.
2. Children under 120 cm in height are free of charge.
3. Special ¥20 tickets are available for students enrolled in Chinese primary and secondary schools and universities with valid student ID or certified letter from the school administrator. This applies to foreign students and students from Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan, but excludes post-graduate and adult education students. However, it's worth an under-18 showing his/her passport and asking for a student ticket, as it can sometimes work.

Electronic-GPS-enabled audio guides are available after the security gates, prices are ¥20 for Chinese audio guides, ¥40 for foreign language audio guides (over 30 languages available). Many non-native English speakers prefer the English version even over those in their language, since it is narrated by Roger Moore, the English actor famous for playing James Bond during the 1970s and '80s.

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Getting There

Entry to the Forbidden City for tourists is only through the south gate (Meridian Gate) - tickets and audio guides are sold on the square before this gate.

The usual way to reach Meridian Gate is from Tiananmen Square: visitors walk 400 metres down a ceremonial avenue through the Tiananmen gate (Gate of Heavenly Peace) and Duanmen gate (Upright Gate), part of what was once known as the Imperial City. Tour buses and other group vehicles are sometimes allowed to park in the lots along this route; if you are visiting the Forbidden City this way you may not have as far to walk.

An alternative is to go through the parks to the west and east of the ceremonial avenue: Zhongshan Park, which was formerly the Imperial Shrine of State, and the Beijing Labouring People's Cultural Hall, which was formerly the Imperial Shrine of Family. All three routes lead you to Meridian Gate Square.

To get to Tiananmen Square by public transport, take Beijing Subway Line 1 to Tiananmen West or Tiananmen East stations, or Beijing Bus routes 1, 2, 10, 52, 59, 82, 90, 99, 120, 126, 203, 205, 210, 728 to Tiananmen / Tiananmen Square. Travelers arriving this way will have to pass through a security checkpoint before being allowed in; on busy days the lines can stretch almost to the subway station exits.

If you are travelling by taxi, due to security restrictions it is usually not possible to get off at Tiananmen itself, so ask the driver to drop you as close to Tiananmen (天安门) as they can.

Exit is through the north gate (Gate of Divine Might) or the east gate. The north gate is on Jingshan Front Street and across the street from the south entrance of Jingshan Park. Bus routes servicing the exit gate are routes 101, 103, 109, 124, 202, 211, 609 and 685 at the Gugong stop. The north gate is convenient for the nearby Imperial gardens of Jingshan Park and Beihai Park (see Xicheng). The east gate is a convenient way to get back to Tiananmen Square or to get to the Wangfujing shopping and food area

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Getting Around

The Forbidden City is usually described in two sections. The "Outer Court", in the south, was designed to be where the business of governing the empire was carried out, while the "Inner Palace", in the north, was the home of the Emperor and his family. The buildings are arranged along a central axis, and two subsidiary axes in the east and west.

The usual way to get around the Forbidden City is on foot.

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Eat

While there are some famous restaurants in the Forbidden City precinct (see listings below), dining options are limited in the Forbidden City itself. There are some cafes and kiosks, but the range is limited and prices are high. As gas fires are not permitted within the historical buildings, ready meals and noodles are the main hot food options, along with sandwiches. It is probably better and cheaper to bring your own packed lunch. A new restaurant with 500 covers is reportedly being planned for the Inner Palace area, in addition to the existing food court in the northwest near the Hall of Mental Cultivation.

Restaurants nearby include:

  • Lai Jin Yu Xuan (来今雨轩) (Inside Zhongshan Park). This 100-year-old restaurant is located within Zhongshan Park, just outside the Forbidden City's walls to the south west. It was a favourite haunt of Beijing's literati in the 20th century, and is today famed for its "Red Mansion" banquet, with dishes taken from the classical Chinese novel Dreams of the Red Chamber. The Lai Jin Yu Xuan tea house is also in the same park, and is a good place to enjoy a cup of tea amidst quiet greenery in the centre of Beijing.
  • Cheng Fu Yan (程府宴), 38 Nanchangjie (Outside west gate of Zhongshan Park). One of Beijing's famed "imperial cuisine" restaurants that also has a private dining room decorated as a replica of Chairman Mao's study, Cheng Fu Yan's odd combination of the imperial and revolutionary reflects its location - just outside the Forbidden City's south wall and faces the leadership compound of Zhongnanhai across the street. The owner's grandfather spent 22 years cooking for Chairman Mao and Madame Mao. The intricate flavour of the elaborate dishes are matched only by the jaw-dropping prices for the de luxe set menus, but a la carte is also available. ¥1,080-2,080 per head set menus.

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Drink

  • Forbidden City Cafe (Right hand side, outside Gate of Heavenly Purity). After the controversial Forbidden City branch of Starbucks closed in 2007, the former Duty Room of the Nine Ministers has hosted a very similar café run by the Palace Museum itself. The prices are high but comparable to Starbucks prices in China, and the selection of drinks and snacks is also similar. ¥20-30 coffee.
  • Lai Jin Yu Xuan Teahouse, Inside Zhongshan Park. Associated with Lai Jin Yu Xuan Restaurant (see "Eat" listing above), this is a peaceful tea house within Zhongshan Park set amongst mature cypress trees, in the south west of the Forbidden City precinct outside the Forbidden City walls.

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Sleep

There is no accommodation for visitors inside the Forbidden City, but there are numerous options in the surrounding Dongcheng and Xicheng Districts.

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This is version 2. Last edited at 11:26 on Jul 28, 17 by Utrecht. 3 articles link to this page.

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