Beijing’s Palace Museum plans vast underground vault to hold treasures from Forbidden City
Temperature-controlled facility should ensure better protection for over a million artefacts and free up more space for exhibitions above ground
The Palace Museum in Beijing’s Forbidden City is undergoing a major expansion of its underground warehouse to improve storage for its collection of priceless artefacts.
The museum, which has over 1.8 million cultural relics, hopes to expand its underground storage areas by 40 per cent when the new facilities open at the end of 2020.
The new warehouse will cover more than 29,000 square metres (312,150 square feet) and will allow the museum to store more than 1.1 million artefacts underground, it said in a statement.
The project will also allow the museum to vary the temperature and humidity in different parts of the storage facility to ensure objects are kept in the most appropriate conditions.
Shan Jixiang, the museum’s head, told Beijing Youth Daily that the existing warehouses – one built in the Eighties and the second in the Nineties – had a uniform temperature and humidity because of the technical limitations builders faced at the time.
At present the museum is storing tens of thousands of objects in ground-level storehouses due to a lack of space underground, and it hopes the new facility will free up space and allow it to open more exhibition halls.
Shan said thousands of pieces of furniture that have never been put on public display were piled up in small warehouses.
He said: “The highest pile has 11 layers. They have been there for decades. We’re now determined to select over 2,000 items [to be exhibited], and turn the major southern warehouse, which is 156 metres (510 feet) long, into a furniture exhibition hall.
Treasures from the palace, which was built in the early 15th century and was home to the Ming and Qing dynasty emperors until the end of imperial rule in 1911, include bronze statues, lacquer ware, textiles, pottery, paintings, calligraphy and religious artefacts.
At present only two per cent of its stock is on show to the public at any given time.
The new storage facilities should also help preserve fragile items, Shan said.
“When the new project is completed, all fragile artefacts will be placed in safe, special cases and then stored in earthquake-resistant shelving,” he said.
The latest project will also include a tunnel that connects the underground warehouse and the museum’s “relics hospital”, or its restoration centre.
The tunnel will ensure that objects which need to be repair no longer have to be transported above ground, which Shan said “will be safer, more convenient, and environmental friendly”.
Shan has previously announced plans for a second Palace Museum in the capital, some 25 kilometres from the existing site, to put more objects on show to the public.