The Forbidden City – Beijing - History and Facts | History Hit

The Forbidden City – Beijing

Beijing, Beijing, China

The Forbidden City in Beijing was a Chinese imperial residence for nearly five centuries and now houses the Palace Museum.

Image Credit: GuoZhongHua / Shutterstock

About The Forbidden City – Beijing

The Forbidden City, also known as the Imperial Palace or the Palace Museum, is a 15th century palace complex in Beijing. Sprawled over a staggering 720,000 square meters and very well-preserved, The Forbidden City is one of the most popular tourist destinations in China and is on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites.

History of the Forbidden City

The Forbidden City was originally constructed under the remit of the third emperor of the Ming dynasty, the Yongle Emperor, between 1406 and 1420, although it was the Ming Emperor Zhudi who was the first to live there. It continued to serve as the imperial residence for almost five centuries, including during the Qing Dynasty era.

The construction of the Forbidden City was a huge undertaking: raw materials were brought from all over the empire and the most talented craftspeople and labourers were used to construct the most elaborate palace China had ever seen.

In all, the Forbidden City had housed 24 emperors, the final one being the last Chinese emperor, Emperor Puyi, who was overthrown in 1911. The Forbidden City was actually opened to the public in 1925, just one year after Emperor Puyi was finally evicted from the palace complex.

Why “Forbidden”?

The name “Forbidden City” derives from the fact that access to it was extremely restricted despite its central location, demonstrated by its 10 metre high walls and a 52 metre wide moat. Furthermore, with 9,900 rooms and halls and almost a thousand surviving buildings it is very much a city within a city. The reclusive nature of the Imperial Family and the existence of the Forbidden City itself meant that they were somewhat cut off from life outside the palace walls. Strict protocol and etiquette governed the workings inside the palace too.

The Forbidden City today

Inside the Forbidden City Museum, visitors can see the vast collection of artwork together with religious and imperial artefacts dating back as far as the seventh century. Tours range from two hour tours to a full day and audio guides are available for a fee. You can see the tour routes through a very fun little application on the Palace Museum’s official site.

The site is closed on Mondays and can get extremely busy around big holidays and festivities – particularly during the summer and Chinese New Year. Make sure you climb the wall for excellent views of the city if you get the chance. The Imperial Gardens are also worth taking the time to stroll around, and provide some much need peace, quiet and respite from the hustle and bustle of Beijing.

There’s plenty to see, including buildings, gardens, museums, gates, walls and treasure so allow for a full day to make the most of the chance to explore this mammoth and highly impressive complex.

Getting to the Forbidden City

The palace complex is in the centre of Beijing: enter via Tiananmen Square and through Meridian Gate – it’s a spectacular way to arrive. Buses stop on Tiananmen Square and by Jingshan Gardens round the back. Subway Line 1 (red) stops at Tiananmen East and West.

Featured In

China Historic Sites

Discover China's rich history at these 10 sites across the country, from the ancient Terracotta Army to the birthplace of Mao Zedong.