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The Forbidden City

The Forbidden City is immense. The epicenter of Beijing, China, it houses 980 buildings in 72 hectares (over 180 acres). It’s another ‘take your breath away’ place. The size of the Forbidden City and variety of courtyards, buildings, statues, etc inside, built for an emperor, 600 years ago, is awe inspiring.

Tickets are only about $10 USD. You can buy the Forbidden City tickets online and avoid the lines.

You enter through an impressive 10-meter (32 foot) wall into the first courtyard. This first courtyard is beautiful with a ‘river’ and several stone bridges. There are 6 courtyards straight through from the entrance to the exit and each is entirely different. There are more courtyards on either side as well.

Here’s a look at our day in The Forbidden City.


Buildings with gates on either side separate the courtyards. The construction and purpose of the buildings showcase a uniqueness found only in Forbidden City.  Each structure had its purpose from where the emperor slept to conducting specific state functions.

The exteriors of the buildings are a delight to the eye. The architecture is classic Chinese and you will want to take a lot of pictures. The building architecture and bright red and yellow colors will capture your attention but look closer at the details.

The roof ornaments, the tile shingle inscriptions, carvings in the rafters and soffits, etc. are a statement to the craftsmanship of the time. The builders of the Forbidden City used yellow, the symbol of the royal family, throughout the Forbidden City. Roofs tiles, decorations in the palaces, and even paving bricks are yellow.


As if this was not enough, the interior of the buildings is opulent. However, they are difficult to view as they are not open to the public and you must elbow your way through the thick crowd to peer through the windows. Take the time and effort to plow your way up to a window or two to see the golden thrones and other furnishings and objects.


The Court Yards

Despite the grandeur of these structures, it is the courtyards that will grab your attention. All the courtyards in the Forbidden City are open and you can wander to every corner of them. Each courtyard had a different purpose and is uniquely designed.

Each courtyard has statures, large ornate incense burners, and huge brass or copper vats. The vats were used to hold water for firefighting purposes. Sadly, fires were not uncommon in the Forbidden City. Over the centuries many of the original structures have burnt and been rebuilt.

I was taken with the brass statues which include lions, crane, peacocks, turtles, deer, elephants, and dragons. Each statue has a special significance. Lions, the protectors of the Forbidden City and Emperor; cranes and turtles, representing longevity.

The last courtyard is the Imperial Garden and this is my favorite. It contains tall trees, limestone outcropping, and various ornate gazebos.

The ‘Other’ Forbidden City

If you have time, veer off to either side of the courtyards. Firstly, it is much less crowded, China is a collectivist culture and not following the crowd is alien to them. Secondly, you’ll have a chance to discover a different side of the Forbidden City, workplaces, homes, access to the Wall, smaller gardens, and other structures.


Wall and Moat

The garden courtyard is close to the exit. Before, you exit the city wall through the Gate of Divine Might, turn right and take the stairs to walk on the wall. It’s an impressive 10 meters (32 feet) high and surrounded by a beautiful 52-meter (170 foot) wide moat. This is also where the museum is located.

The Palace Museum

The Forbidden City is home to the Palace Museum. The museum houses different exhibits. The exhibit while we were there displayed artifacts from an ancient Greek cargo ship. Previous exhibits include Princess Sissi and Hungary: Aristocratic Life in 17th–19th Century Hungary and Jewels of the World. An interesting variety.

500 Years of Emperors

This true city of emperors was completed in 1419 and occupied in 1420. For 500 years from the Ming to the Qing dynasties, 1420 to 1912, 24 emperors lived here. The capital of China had been in Nanjing (nan = south, jing = capital) until Emperor Zhu Di moved it to the Forbidden City in Beijing in 1420. It took 14 years to build and ‘employed’ more than a million workers.

Stone and Brick

Workers transported stone for the Forbidden City from Fangshan. Stories say the workers dug wells every fifty meters (16 feet) and in the winter poured water on the road to slide the stones on the ice. Masons made the bricks from white lime and rice gluten and the cement from rice gluten and egg whites. Apparently, these are strong and durable materials, still standing today.

When to Go

You don’t have to arrive super early to get into the Forbidden City. Officials allow 80,000 visitors to enter each day. All of these people don’t all arrive at the opening time of course, but you don’t want to get there too late.

I like to walk through Tiananmen Square on my way to the Forbidden City. Tiananmen Square ends at the Meridian Gate. The Meridian Gate is the only entrance gate to the Forbidden City. This route takes a bit longer but Tiananmen Square is right there and is impressive in itself.

Jingshan Park

After you exit the Forbidden City, cross the street (the crosswalk is underground) to Jingshan Park. The park is built around a small hill. A short but steep walk to the pagoda at the top gives you a 360-degree bird’s eye view of Beijing. You can also see the entirety of the Forbidden City from this vantage point. The park is full of gorgeous flower gardens and wooded areas.

Singing in Jingshan Park

Singing seems to be a popular activity in the park. You can hear choruses from the park at the pagoda and can get singing lessons down below. I assume a donation involved.

The Forbidden City – a World Heritage Site

UNESCO declared The Forbidden City a World Heritage Site in 1987. This designation includes the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world. Not surprisingly, it’s a popular tourist destination with 16 million visitors annually. Prepare for a crowd.

We did not take a tour of the Forbidden City. I’m not going to lie, after our amazing Great Wall of China Tour experience, I sort of wish we did. Here are some Forbidden City tours if you are interested.


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