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FORBIDDEN CITY

Officially known as the Palace Museum, this magnificent complex is a grand monument to the 24 emperors who ruled from its halls over a period of almost 500 years. The symbolic center of the Chinese universe, the palace was the exclusive domain of the imperial court from its completion in 1420 until the last of the emperors was forced to abdicate at the beginning of the 20th century. The modern world intruded in 1949, when the public were finally admitted through the palace gates. A limit of 80,000 visitors per day remains in force.

NEED TO KNOW

prac_info North of Tian’an Men Square • 8500 7422 • Subway: Tian’an Men West or Tian’an Men East • en.dpm.org.cnOpen Apr–Oct: 8:30am–5pm Tue–Sun; Nov–Mar: 8:30am–4:30pm Tue–Sun • Adm Apr–Oct ¥60; Nov–Mar ¥40 (buy tickets online in advance); there are additional charges of ¥10 for certain halls; audio guides are available for ¥40 (plus ¥100 deposit)

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  • There are snack kiosks near the ticket office, and a restaurant inside.
  • Enter through the Meridian Gate only; other gates are for exit.
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Forbidden City

1. Meridian Gate

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Known in Chinese as the Wu Men, this gate is the traditional entrance to the palaces. From the balcony the emperor would review his armies and perform ceremonies marking the start of the new lunar year.

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The traditional Meridian Gate

2. Hall of Supreme Harmony

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Raised on a triple tier of marble terraces, this largest of halls houses a sandalwood throne, used in the coronations of 24 emperors.

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The grand Hall of Supreme Harmony

3. Inner Court

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The Inner Court is more intimate than the formal Outer Court, because this is where the emperor and empress lived, close to the emperor’s concubines.

4. Imperial Garden

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The emperor Qianlong wrote, “Every ruler [...] must have a garden in which he can stroll, and relax his heart.” This formal garden, the oldest in the Forbidden City, has two beautiful pavilions.

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The pleasant Imperial Garden

5. Eastern Palaces

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East of the Inner Court are smaller halls. This is where the emperor’s harem once lived.

6. Western Palaces

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It took a decade to restore the Western Palaces, with six now open to the public. These include the Palace of Gathered Elegance and the Palace of Eternal Spring, both associated with the Empress Dowager Cixi.

7. Hall of Preserving Harmony

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The most spectacular aspect of this hall is the great carved ramp on the north side, sculpted with dragons and clouds, and made from a single piece of marble weighing more than 200 tons.

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Sculptures adorning the Hall of Preserving Harmony

8. Gate of Heavenly Purity

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The oldest hall of all is the boundary between the Outer Court (official) and Inner Court (private).

9. Golden Water

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Five bridges span the Golden Water, which flows from west to east in a course designed to resemble the jade belt worn by the court officials.

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Bridges over the Golden Water

10. Gate of Supreme Harmony

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The fourth and final great gate gives access to the Outer Court, the heart of the Forbidden City. The gate is guarded by two large bronze lions, classic imperial symbols of power and dignity.

THE LAST EMPEROR

Pu Yi rose to power aged three in 1908, but he was forced to abdicate in 1912 by the new Republican government. The ex-emperor continued to live in the Forbidden City until 1924. He was later imprisoned by the Communists, until Mao granted him amnesty in 1959. He died in 1967, after working for seven years as a gardener.

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