The Forbidden City Palace lies at the heart of Beijing, having served as the home of 24 emperors from the 14th to 20th century under the Ming and Qing dynasties. It was largely constructed by Emperor Chengzu during his 14 year reign in the 14th century. The Emperor’s Palace was also called the ‘Purple City’. This is because according to ancient Chinese astronomers, Polaris or the ‘Purple Star’ is in the center of heaven. Therefore, the center of heaven on earth ought to be called the Purple Palace. The name ‘the Forbidden City’ came to popularity because only a handful of selected individuals were allowed to enter the city to serve the Emperor. It is also sometimes called ‘The Purple Forbidden City’.
The Palace is just north of Tiananmen Square. It is a gigantic rectangular complex, covering more than 70 hectares. There are more than 8700 rooms in the palace, protected by ten meter high walls and a 52 meter wide moat! The walls have two major gates. One on the south called the Meridian Gate, and another on the north called the Gate of Divine Prowess. The distance between these opposite gates is about one kilometre. The width in the other direction is about 0.75km. There are beautiful towers on each of the four corners, which give good vantage points for looking over the city and the palace.
The Palace interior is divided into two parts. The Outer Court in the southern section was where the Emperor executed his formal duties as the supreme ruler of the empire. The Inner Court to the north was where he lived privately with his family.
The last Emperor of China to inhabit the Inner Court was driven out in 1924. Prior to this, the palace was inhabited by fourteen emperors from the Ming dynasty and ten emperors from the Qing dynasty. Understandably, the palaces houses many rare historical artifacts and treasures. These have been protected by UNESCO since 1987, as the palace was listed as a World Cultural Heritage Site, and has since become an extremely popular tourist destination.
Emperor Chengzu ordered the beginning of construction in the year 1407, the fifth year of his reign as Emperor. It took 14 years to complete the construction is 1420, when the capital city was changed to Beijing from Nanjing to match the Emperor’s new place of residence. It is believed that over one million workers were used to construct the palace. One hundred thousand of them were skilled craftsmen, but the majority were only there to do hard manual labour. This included sliding giant stones from the quarry along the road. To achieve this, they had to construct wells every fifty metres along the road to source water used to make ice on the road surface to slide the rocks along.
The architecture of the palace itself required highly skilled construction techniques. For instance, the giant red walls of the palace are around 9 metres wide at the base, but only 7 metres wide at the top. This angular design is difficult to engineer but it means that it is more difficult to invade the walls using scaling ladders. The bricks of the wall were incredibly strong, considering that they were made according to an ancient recipe with glutinous rice, egg whites and white lime.
The roofs of the palaces are predominantly tiled in yellow, because this colour is the symbol of the royal family. Many of the bricks on the ground are yellow as well. The royal library, however, was tiled with a black roof. This is because black historically represented water, and therefore tiling the roof black was a way to help protect the library from fires.
The architectural splendour of the palace and its beautiful treasures are now open for anyone to explore, including foreign and domestic tourists.
About Touring the Palace
Tour groups move through the palace from south to north. That is, they enter through the Meridian Gate to the south, and exit from the Gate of Divine Prowess to the north. The palace is massive, so touring only the main north-south corridor will require at least three hours. If you wish to explore the eastern and western sectors, you should allow even more time.
Getting to the Palace
Because you can only enter the palace from the south gate, you should to take transport to the south side of the palace. You can get there by taking the train via the subway, or the bus.
On the subway, take Line 1 to Tiananmen West Station (Exit B) or Tiananmen East Station (Exit A), locate the Tiananmen Tower, then the Meridian Gate is to the north.
Alternatively, take Line 2 to Qianmen Station (Exit A) and walk north through Tiananmen Square, passing by Tiananmen Tower to arrive at Meridian Gate.
Travelling by bus, take buses numbered 1, 2, 52, 59, 82, 99, 126, Tourist Line 1 or Tourist Line 2, to get to Tiananmen East Station, then locate the Tiananmen Tower and walk north towards the Meridian Gate.
Alternatively, take buses numbered 1, 5, 52, 59, 82, 99, 129, 126, Tourist Line 1 or Tourist Line 2, get off at Tiananmen West Station, then locate the Tiananmen Tower and walk north towards the Meridian Gate.
Departing from the Palace
There are only two gates where it is possible to exit the palace, The Gate of Divine Prowess to the north and the East Prosperity Gate.
When leaving by the Gate of Divine Prowess take buses numbered 58, 101, 103, 109, 124, 685, Tourist Line 1, or Tourist Line 2 from the nearby Gugong Station.
Alternatively, take buses numbered 58, 111 or 124 from Jiangshan East Gate Station.
When leaving by the East Prosperity Gate
Take buses numbered 2 or 82 from the nearby Donghuamen Station, take Tourist Line 2 from Gugong East Gate Station.
Palace Admission Fees
- Admission to the palace free for children under 120 centimetres tall, but they must be accompanied by an adult.
- The concessionary price is 20 yuan for tourists aged between 6 and 18 years.
- The tickets for entry to the Treasure, Clock and Watch Galleries are 5 yuan each.
- Seniors older than 60 can show their password to get half price tickets.
- The annual access ticket is only available for Chinese citizens.
Where to Buy Tickets
The palace museum sells only a limited number of tickets, 80 thousand each day. The best way to buy tickets is in advance online, however the website is only in Chinese, so you may need to get assistance from your travel agency. You can also scan a QR Code at the gate to be redirected to the relevant webpage from which to buy tickets. Alternatively, there is a ticket booth at the Meridian Gate, but if you choose to buy tickets from here, you must get in early or they will be sold out.
The palace museum is open from around 8:30am, and is closed to new entries around 4pm. It is also closed on Monday, except during some public holidays and the summer holidays from July 1st to August 31st.
Remember to Bring Your Passport
Ticket inspectors are now enforcing a ‘real name policy’, meaning that you will need to show your passport to verify that your identity matches your ticket before entering the museum.