It sounds ominous, doesn’t it? The Forbidden City is actually a huge palace, home to past Ming and Qing dynasty Chinese Emperors (early 15th century to early 20th century). Admittance to the residence was forbidden for all those without permission, given only by the Emperor himself. It is located in central Beijing, just north of Tiananmen Square with the city quite literally expanding outwards in rings around the imperial home.
Yellow is omnipresent in the architecture as it was the colour of the imperial family, with the notable exception of the library roof which is black, as it represented water and would therefore be useful in case of fire in the library. The palace architecture inspired many more buildings for centuries later, notably through the Qing dynasty.
The complex is now a popular tourist attraction as I found out when I visited during a national holiday, a plan I would not recommend as there were quite literally thousands of visitors on the day I went. There is a national week of holiday in October and many Chinese take this opportunity to visit national sites of importance, such as the Forbidden Palace, the Great Wall of China and the Terracotta Army.
Dynasties of Chinese Emperors, their families, concubines, guards and eunuchs resided in the Inner Court of the Forbidden Palace and the business of ruling the Empire was conducted in the Outer Court. It now houses many cultural and historical artefacts, including personal items and written documents.
Gugong 故宫 (Chinese name for the Forbidden Palace) is actually the largest palace complex in the world, covering 74 hectares. It has 10 metre high walls and a 52 metre wide moat to ensure outsiders to not gain access (and most probably also that insiders do not escape). If you want to see what life was like in the palace in pre-modern China, watch the series Empresses in the Palace. It’s on Netflix and don’t be alarmed because although it’s in Mandarin, it does have subtitles and is a pretty good series.
The palace has been the site of many historical moments. It was set alight in 1644, captured by Anglo-French armies in the Second Opium War (which if you are interested in learning about, I highly recommend The Opium War by Julia Lovell) and I actually couldn’t help noticing scratches on vases from the 1900 Boxer Rebellion.
Despite minor damages, the Forbidden Palace has been so well preserved throughout the turmoil of twentieth century China as it was classed as heritage and turned into a museum as early as the 1920’s. It was also classed as UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in 1987.