The Forbidden City, also known as the Imperial Palace, the National Palace Museum, the Purple Forbidden City and Gugong, is probably Beijing’s top tourist attraction. This huge palace complex (one full square kilometer), previously home to 23 successive Emperors, is located in the heart ofBeijing, on the north side of Tiananmen Square. Because of its size, a visit to the palace can be a bit tiring as a good amount of walking is involved, so be prepared. Three hours should be enough time to cover some of the palace but a person could spend twice that amount of time if they wanted to be more thorough. Absolutely, the Forbidden Cityis very well catered to tourists as shops selling sandwiches, drinks, guide books, and souvenirs abound. There is even a Starbucks!
The Forbidden Cityis rectangular in shape, surrounded by a moat and a 10 meters high wall, and has 9,999 rooms (one short of the heavenly number of 10,000). The southern section, or theOuter Court, contains the Hall of Sacred Harmony, Hall of Complete Harmony and Hall of Preserving Harmony. The northern section, or theInner Court, contains a number of other halls and the Imperial Garden. It is here that the Emperor and the Royal Family actually lived.
The Forbidden City, situated in the very heart of Beijing, was home to 24 emperors of the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) Dynasties. The construction of the grand palace started in the fourth year of Emperor Yongle of the Ming Dynasty (1406), and ended in 1420. In ancient times, the emperor claimed to be the son of Heaven, and therefore Heaven’s supreme power was bestowed upon him. The emperors’ residence on earth was built as a replica of the Purple Palace where God was thought to live in Heaven. Such a divine place was certainly forbidden to ordinary people and that is why the Forbidden City is so named. Originally called Zijin Cheng (‘Purple Forbidden City’), in China now it is usually called Gugong (故宫 /goo-gong), the ‘Former/Old Palace’.
Whilst the palace buildings in themselves are beautiful, the incredible size of the complex can actually make it seem a bit like a ghost town. If you don’t learn a bit about the history of the palace before your visit you might find yourself wandering around aimlessly. Try and do a little research before you go to enhance your visit. Once you know something about the history of the Forbidden City it only takes a little bit of imagination to try and conjure up images of what life inside the palace would have been like centuries ago when it was populated with royalty, eunuchs, servants and concubines.