Yuhuayuan (御花园), or the Royal/Imperial Garden, is a large area in the northernmost part of the Forbidden City in Beijing. It was used by the emperors and empresses for leisure primarily, but it also served for sacrificial rites, exercise, reading, and more.
History and Architecture
Constructed before much of the Forbidden City, in 1417 during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) by Emperor Yongle (reigning from 1402-1424), the Royal Garden was designed to be a private retreat for the imperial family. It was built before most of the main structures of the Forbidden City, which were built in 1420, it makes a rectangle taking up about 1.5% of the Forbidden City Museum’s total area (12,000 square meters).
The design of the garden, with incense burners, small structures of different styles, trees, rock gardens, flowers, and sculptures was designed to invoke feelings of harmony and peace.
On some festivals of import, activities (especially outdoors-related ones) were held in the Imperial Garden. During Dragon Boat Festival in May, people would eat Zongzi (rice and meat or vegetables/sugar wrapped in bamboo leaves) there. During the Mid-Autum Festival on August 15th, the right of sacrifice to the moon was performed there. On the ninth day of the ninth month of the Chinese calender- the Double Ninth Festival- the Emperor and Empress would ascend the Hill of Plied Excellence and pray.
On Chinese Valentine’s Day (July 7th on the lunar calendar), the residents of the forbidden city burned incense to worship of the cowherd and the weaving fairy. According to Chinese legend, the weaving fairy crosses the bridge of magpies to meet the cowherd every year at this date.
Within the Imperial Garden are many different pavilions, halls, and other constructions.
Notable Sights and Constructions
The Hall of Imperial Peace
The dominating structure of the Royal Garden, the Hall of Imperial Peace (Qin’an dian ) occupies the center. It was built in the 1400s and its base is made of white marble. The hall is composed of 20 different rooms built in different styles along the east and west sides. The Consort Pine, a tree over 400 years old, stands before the hall, symbolizing harmony between the emperor and empress. The building is also protected from evil spirits by two unicorns. The inside of the temple was dedicated to Zhenwudadi, the Taoist god of Water, in an effort to protect the Forbidden City and its buildings from conflagrations.
Imperial Prospect Pavilion (Yujing ting)
Yujing ting, or the Imperial Prospect/View Pavilion is built on a small artificial hill composed of imported rock. The small building measures only 3 meters on each side and is topped with an ornate roof with a golden ball. As one might expect, standing at the pavilion provides a view of most of the imperial city.
Mountain of Accumulated Excellence (Duxiu Shan)
Also called Plied Excellence Hill, this is an artificial rock formation. Existing as a flowerbed until Emperor Wanli (reigning from 1573-1620) ordered the construction of this hill in the late 1500s. It sits at roughly 10 meters high with a path leading to its summit. It also includes a cave entrance with the words “Accumulated Excellence” inscribed at the doorway. Atop the artificial hill is the Imperial Prospect Pavilion, and before the hill is the only surviving fountain in the Forbidden City.
Colored Stone Pathway
The pathway that leads through the Royal Gardens is composed of many different colored pebbles . There are nearly 1000 different patterns, depicting flowers, plants, idioms, opera stories, figures, and scenery; most often they will see symbols of luck and fortune.
Along this pathway, images of women punishing their husbands for misdeeds are also displayed- a rare counter to the ubiquitous emperor-centric culture of the Forbidden City.
Four Seasons Pavilions
At each corner of the Imperial Garden is a pavilion representing one of the fours seasons. The most renown of these are the Pavilion of Myriad Springs (Wanchunting) and the Pavilion of One Thousand Autumns.
The Pavilion of One Thousand Autumns, built in the Ming Dynasty, is a square building with a circular roof and porches on each side. There are Buddhist statues and a tablet dating from Emperor Tongzhi (serving from 1862-1874).
The most famous of the pavilions of the seasons is the Pavilion of Myriad Springs. Built in 1535 during the Ming Dynasty, it symbolizes renewed life and growth.
The Pavilion of Myriad Springs is the most famous one and lies in the east corner of the garden. It was built in 1535 and restored during the Qing dynasty. This pavilion symbolizes the spring, and undoubtedly, there are also three other pavilions which represent the summer, autumn and winter respectively.
The Imperial Gardens contain numerous other sights and constructions. Ancient trees, hundreds of years old, can be found in various places; other pavilions, giant incense burners, a bridge, an educational studio, and gazebos populate the gardens.
Exiting the gardens to the north, visitors will go through the Gate of Divine Might (Shenwumen, or the Gate of the Primacy of Heaven), the rear gate, and now the primary exit of the Forbidden City.
In-depth Forbidden City 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.
More about Forbidden City