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The Forbidden City
History for Kids >> Ancient China
The Forbidden City was the palace of the Chinese emperors during the Ming and Qing dynasties. It is located in the heart of Beijing, the capital city of China, and is the largest ancient palace in the world.
When was it built?
The Forbidden City was built under the orders of the powerful Yongle Emperor of the Ming Dynasty between the years 1406 to 1420. More than one million people worked on the construction of the expansive palace. The best materials were brought in from all over China including specially made "golden" bricks, logs of the rare Phoebe zhennan trees, and blocks of marble. When the palace was completed, the Yongle Emperor moved the capital of the empire to Beijing city.
How big is the Forbidden City?
The Forbidden City is enormous. It covers an area of 178 acres that include 90 palaces with courtyards, 980 total buildings, and at least 8,700 rooms. The total floor space is over 1,600,000 square feet. Imagine if it was your job to clean that floor. The emperor had an army of servants, however, to take care of his palace and all the people that lived there.
The Forbidden City also served as a fortress to protect the emperor and his family. It is surrounded by a 26 feet high wall and a 170 feet wide moat. Each corner of the palace has a tall guard tower where guards used to keep watch for enemies and assassins.
Each side of the palace has a gate with the main gate being the Meridian Gate to the south. The other gates include the Gate of Devine Might to the north, the East Glorious Gate, and the West Glorious Gate.
An ancient painting of the walls of the Forbidden City
The layout of the Forbidden City followed many Ancient Chinese rules of design. The main buildings all were aligned in a straight line from north to south. There are two main sections to the palace: the outer court and the inner court.
- Outer court - The southern part of the palace is called the outer court. It was here that the emperors conducted official ceremonies. There are three main buildings in the outer court including the Hall of Preserving Harmony, the Hall of Central Harmony, and the Hall of Supreme Harmony. The largest of the three is the Hall of Supreme Harmony. It was in this building that the emperors held court during the Ming dynasty.
- Inner Court - To the north is the inner court, where the emperor and his family lived. The emperor himself slept in a building called the Palace of Heavenly Purity. The Empress lived in a building called the Palace of Earthly Tranquility.
People lined up in the courtyard of the palace
The Forbidden City was designed using Ancient Chinese symbolism and philosophy. Here are a few examples:
Is it still there today?
- The buildings all faced south which stood for holiness. They also faced away from the north which symbolized the enemies of the Chinese, cold winds, and evil.
- The roofs of the buildings in the city were made with yellow tiles. Yellow was the exclusive color of the emperor and symbolized his ultimate power.
- The ceremonial buildings are arranged in groups of three. The number three represented heaven.
- The numbers nine and five are used often because they represent the majesty of the emperor.
- The traditional five elemental colors are used throughout the design of the palace. These include white, black, red, yellow, and green.
- The roof of the library was black to symbolize water in order to protect the writings from fire.
Yes, the Forbidden City still lies at the center of Beijing city. Today it is the Palace Museum and houses thousands of artifacts and pieces of art from Ancient China.
Interesting Facts about the Forbidden City
Take a ten question quiz on the Forbidden City questions page.
- Twenty-four different Chinese emperors lived in the palace over the course of nearly 500 years.
- About 100,000 artisans and craftsmen worked on the palace.
- The last emperor of China, Puyi, continued to live in the Forbidden City for twelve years after he abdicated the throne in 1912.
- The Chinese name for the palace during ancient times was Zijin Cheng which means "Purple Forbidden City". Today the palace is called "Gugong" which means "Former Palace".
- The movie The Last Emperor was filmed inside the Forbidden City.
For more information on the civilization of Ancient China:
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