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Highlights of the Forbidden City

Walking from Tiananmen Square through the Forbidden City, you’ll marvel at the unrivaled views of this imperial palace complex with over 600 years of history. It's rewarding to get a deeper insights into the essence of classical Chinese architecture.

Symmetry in Architecture

Symmetry in Architecture

Symmetry in Architecture

Chinese people used to believe China was the Middle Kingdom; in two senses, one figurative and one literal. Figuratively, it was the kingdom between Heaven and Earth (and ruled over Earth, according to Heaven's dictates); and literally, it was the kingdom at the center of the earth, surrounded by barbarians on all sides.

The people’s emperor, the son of god, should live at the center of the world. This symbolized the majesty of imperial power.From the overall layout to the smallest detail, the complex was meticulously planned to reflect philosophical and religious principles.

The palace complex is built around traditional palatial towers, with the Gu Lou ("Drum Tower") and Zhong Lou ("Bell Tower"), in the north, and the Yong Ding Men, or "Gate of Permanent Peace and Stability", in the south.

10-Meter-High City Wall

City Wall

City Wall

In the interests of security (the safety of the imperial family was of course paramount), the rectangular-shaped Forbidden City was surrounded by a 10-metre-high city wall, with a total circumference of 3,430 meters.

At each corner of this purposefully imposing rectangular structure stands a magnificent watchtower. During imperial times, these towers were diligently manned by the most trusted guards. A moat – encircling the outer perimeter of the city wall – with drawbridges, served as the first line of defense.

The Four Gates

Tiananmen Square

Tiananmen Square

Each of four sides of the Forbidden City is endowed with a gate: the Meridian Gate (Wu men) on the south, the Gate of Divine Prowess (Shenwu men) on the north, the Gate of Western Brilliance (Xihua men) and the Gate of Eastern Brilliance (Donghua men).

The main gate is the Meridian Gate, located behind the Tiananmen Rostrum, standing to the north of Tiananmen Square. It can be said that this gate, the Tiananmen Gate (or the “the Gate of Heavenly Peace”), is the entrance to the Imperial Palace.

1. The Meridian Gate

The Meridian Gate

The Meridian Gate

The group of buildings at the Meridian Gate is the tallest in the palace complex. The Gate is the place where the emperor announced imperial edicts and gave final orders to the army before military expeditions.

The main door among the five doors of the Meridian Gate could only be accessed by the emperor. Only at her wedding, could the empress enter there; candidates who won first, second and third place in the highest imperial examination could also only leave from there once.

2. The Gate of Divine Prowess

Like the Meridian Gate, the Gate of Divine Prowess has a rostrum, but its structure is a little lower than the Meridian Gate’s. It was the entrance and exit of the palace in ancient times. Now it serves as the front gate of the Palace Museum.

3. The Gate of Xihua and the Gate of Donghua

These two gates correspond to each other on the west and east of the Forbidden City respectively. Both are similar to the Gate of Divine Prowess.

9,999 Rooms

Animal Decorations on the Eaves

Animal Decorations on the Eaves

From the gates at the entrances to the ornaments on the roofs, numerical culture can be found in every nook and cranny of the royal palace. 

The palace grounds occupy an area of about 72 hectares. Though the palace, according to folklore, consists of 9,999 rooms – since the number nine is intimately linked with the emperor – in actuality (according to an official statistical survey conducted in 1973), there are only 8,707 rooms in the complex.

The number nine does, however, feature in a couple of other statistics; namely, in the number of palaces (90) and the number of courtyards (980).

The Imperial Garden

A Corner of the Imperial Garden

A Corner of the Imperial Garden

Built in 1420, the Imperial Garden is on the north-south axis of the Forbidden City. Pavilions and kiosks spread out on both sides. The green pines, cypresses and bamboos in the garden are dotted with rocks, fountains, towers, pergolas, ponds, and flower beds of different shapes, creating an evergreen landscape.

You may move back to explore the West Wing of the Forbidden City and its different buildings; or if you move further towards the end of the Imperial Garden you’ll see the city’s exit gate.

Highlights Tour with China Travel

Take your time to enjoy the One-Day In-Depth Forbidden City Tour with China Travel:

  • Our English-speaking expert guide will lead you to explore this largest imperial palace in the world and give you comprehensive explanations with pictures.
  • You will see all highlights and discover the hidden history of Chinese imperial life.
  • This in-depth Forbidden City tour takes about 5 hours while common Forbidden City tour only lasts about 2 hours.
  • In the afternoon, you’ll visit Jingshan Park to have a bird's eye view of the Forbidden City and watch sunset.