The Forbidden City

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 December, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 December, 2009, 12:00am

An emperor's home

Unesco lists the Forbidden City in Beijing as the biggest collection of ancient wooden buildings in the world. Today, it is one of the mainland's most popular tourist attractions.

But for centuries, nobody could enter or leave this huge palace without the permission of the emperor.

Although an early Forbidden City was built during the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368), work on the current one started in 1406, during the Ming dynasty.

It took 15 years and between 200,000 and 1 million workers to build.

The world's biggest palace

Today, the Forbidden City is the biggest surviving palace in the world.

It is nearly twice as big as the Vatican and almost four times bigger than the Kremlin. It covers about 97 hectares.

The Forbidden City sat at the heart of old Beijing. To the south was the Gate of Heavenly Peace Square, Tiananmen, the largest square in the world.

To the north were the Bell and Drum towers, and the Yongdingmen, the North Gate. This gate was torn down in 1950, and rebuilt in 2005.

Five troubled centuries

The more than 9,000 wooden buildings in the palace have survived some five centuries. This is amazing when you consider everything the country has faced.

In 1644, for example, a rebel leader took over the palace. But when he heard a Ming general had joined forces with the Manchu army, he fled. He burned parts of the palace down.

In 1860, the British and French took it over for a year in the second Opium War. During the Cultural Revolution, soldiers had to protect it from Red Guards.

Fung shui

Everything in the Forbidden City has a meaning. For example, in the Chinese name for the Forbidden City, Zijin Cheng, 'zi' means purple.

But it also represents the North Star, where the Celestial Emperor - the Taoist ruler of heaven - lived.

The names of the buildings and their positions reflect ideas such as harmony and kindness. For example, the halls leading from the Outer Court to the Inner Court are called Hall of Supreme Harmony and Hall of Central Harmony.

now do this

1 The Forbidden City is ... as big as the Vatican.

a. four times

b. twice

c. 10 times

2 Work on the Forbidden City we can see today started in the ... dynasty.

a. Ming

b. Yuan

c. Qing

3 In 1860, ... briefly took over the Forbidden City.

a. Ming dynasty rebels

b. the Japanese

c. British-French troops


December 7

1. b, 2. c, 3. a