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Memories of the Forbidden Gardens in Katy, Texas

I live in Houston and have worked as a nurse. I have a lifelong passion for traveling, nature, and photography (preferably all together!).

Each face of the terracotta army was different.

Each face of the terracotta army was different.

Preserved in Photos and Videos

The reason "memories" is in the title of this article is that the once fabulous attraction called Forbidden Gardens is now permanently closed and no longer exists. At least it has been preserved in photos and some videos. It is now a part of Katy, Texas, history. The Grand Parkway highway is currently on a portion of this property. All the thousands of items were sold off in an auction.

Even though the attraction is now closed, you can see what I wrote about it many years ago and even learn some of its archaeological and historical background in this article.

Many years ago, I wrote:

"If traveling to China is not in your foreseeable future, and yet you would like to experience The Forbidden City in all of its glory, come to Katy, Texas. There you can see a replica built in a scaled-down version in the Forbidden Gardens. Prepare yourself for the wow factor!

"In addition to the Forbidden City, you will also discover the 1/3rd scale model of the 6,000-piece terracotta army that was found buried in a hill accompanying Emperor Qin into the afterlife. And there is more."

One saw this statue and horse before entering the grounds.

One saw this statue and horse before entering the grounds.

Before Traveling to China

Friends that visited the Forbidden City in China thanked us for introducing this to them before their trip. Because of touring this large scale model at the Forbidden Gardens, when they were among the actual buildings in China, they had a better sense of how each structure and its purpose were interrelated to the entire city. They had learned that right here in Katy, Texas.

Inside the entrance were a number of buildings that showcased different artifacts, some real & others replicated.

Inside the entrance were a number of buildings that showcased different artifacts, some real & others replicated.

A Gem of a Discovery!

Commissioned by Ira P. H. Poon, who is a multi-millionaire from Hong Kong now living in Seattle, Washington, he wanted something that would remind him of the Forbidden City in China. Supposedly because of less expensive land costs, he found this site on open prairie land in Katy, Texas, to be suitable for his massive project.

Mr. Poon spent around $20 million creating this outdoor museum on 40 acres of land.

The third largest Asian community in the U.S. lives in and around Houston, which was another reason for locating the Forbidden Gardens here.

About the Qin Dynasty

Back during the Qin Dynasty, the weapons were made primarily using bronze as the building material. A few pieces consisted of iron. Some had a coating of chromium, which made them appear to be untarnished even after thousands of years of being buried underground along with the terracotta soldiers and horses of Emperor Qin's army.

Swords, spears, lances, crossbow-type weapons, and others were among the items discovered.

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A primary transportation mode was the sedan chair pictured here with my mother-in-law standing next to it. The person transported would have been served by people hoisting up the attached bars and pulling the chair as they maneuvered through the streets of China.

The very fancy and ornate red empress chair would have been held aloft by many people. The Empress would have been taken to her wedding in this elaborately decorated transport.

Red was a color signifying good fortune. Back then, the bride's wedding dresses were also in the color red, hoping that this would help bring about a good marriage.

Emperor Qin

The emperor's full name was Qin Shihuang. He was the first ruler of a unified China and was responsible for ending centuries of war.

Emperor Qin was both hated and loved by his people, depending upon how one prospered or faired under his rule.

Qin was responsible for a considerable amount of the building of the Great Wall of China. He used forced labor, and many who died during construction are buried in that same wall.

Supposedly he had over 3,000 concubines buried alive in his mausoleum. He also had hundreds of scholars buried alive because they did not teach what he wanted them to be instructing.

To Qin's credit, he created the longest-reigning system of government. The Imperial System of Dynasty in China lasted over 2,200 years. Also to his credit:

  • He standardized the system of weights and measures.
  • Calendars
  • Folk Music
  • Axles on chariots
  • Abolishing the feudal system of land holdings

Emperor Qin was an interesting fellow, to say the least, and ruled for 36 years in China, leaving a lasting legacy.

Sculpture of Emperor Qin at the Forbidden Gardens

Sculpture of Emperor Qin at the Forbidden Gardens

Archaeological Discovery

When Emperor Qin died, he was interred in a hillside, and until recent history, he and everything buried with him went undisturbed.

In 1974 peasants in the eastern-central part of China just outside Xi'an were digging a well to find water and accidentally discovered what was to become a significant archaeological find of enormous significance and impact. They never did find water, but the discoveries made that day led to much further exploration of the area and served to enlighten the world about the first emperor's tomb and what was buried with him.

Still only partially excavated today, around 7,000 life-size terra cotta soldiers and horses have been discovered guarding the entrance to Emperor Qin's tomb.

The gravesite was spread out over an area of about 5 1/2 acres.

The guide that took us around one day in the Forbidden Gardens explained the reason why everything has not yet been excavated. He told us that mercury was found to exist, and as it is incredibly poisonous, some of what is underground remain there today. Was this done on purpose? We can only speculate.

Image at Forbidden Gardens

Image at Forbidden Gardens

The Forbidden City in China

Peking (now Bejing) was founded over 3,000 years ago. The Imperial City, which became known as the Forbidden City, covers an area of 16 square miles where the emperor lived and ruled. Only certain persons were allowed within these quarters, and the general populace was excluded. It is a walled city created initially for defensive purposes.

This city originated during the 15th century when the Ming Dynasty was in rule, and the emperor Yong Le was responsible for the creation of most of the structures within the city.

Today the Forbidden City in China is open to the public as a museum.

Authentic Replicas

At the Forbidden Gardens in Katy, one could see a one-third scale 6,000-piece army of Emperor Qin's horses and soldiers. Some of them are full-sized. These were all made in China using the clays that exist over there, which account for the color variations.

Each one is hand modeled after the actual ones in China, and most of the soldier's faces are different! Amazing to see! I truthfully saw no two that were alike!

The scaled-down replica formerly in Katy, Texas, is remarkable in its accuracy in scale and form. Even the construction materials reflect the actual woods, tiles, and so forth used in the city in China. The clay figures representing people were all handcrafted in China as well.

The creation of this entire enterprise truly reflects a labor of love and desire on the part of Mr. Poon.

We have found that it is rarely publicized and not that many people, even those residing nearby, knew about the Forbidden Gardens.

Be Prepared

As it was primarily an outdoor museum and covered a great deal of ground, we had to be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes and take precautions regarding the sun. If you were visiting in the summer, you had to wear sunscreen protection or hats or use umbrellas.

We have taken several visitors to this site, and they are amazed at what they have learned and experienced. We have enjoyed our periodic trips as well and always absorb a bit of knowledge each time that we might have missed learning during previous visits.

Gone but Not Forgotten

The Forbidden Gardens was such an educational site. It is a shame that it no longer exists as it once did. We have seen some of the soldiers and other items in various places around our metro area. I hope that you learned a bit about Emperor Qin, his dynasty, and what has been discovered from his gravesite.

The video below shows even more about this once outstanding attraction.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Peggy Woods


Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 03, 2020:

Hi Denise,

It truly was amazing to see this display of the Forbidden Gardens when it was in Katy, Texas. Everyone that we took there thought it was fascinating. It also served to teach us much about the Qin dynasty.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on August 03, 2020:

I've seen many photos of this terracotta army but it always amazes me that some artist spent time creating a new face on each solder. Amazing. What a blessing it must have been to see it for yourself.



Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 30, 2020:

Hello ahmetayhan,

Thanks for letting me know that you enjoyed learning about this.

ahmetayhan from Turkey on April 29, 2020:

Hello,Thank you really effective knowledge.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 29, 2020:

Hi FlourishAnyway,

I do not think that a person has much of a choice when eminent domain is used to take over a private person's property for a public construction project.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 29, 2020:

Hi Linda,

Sadly, eminent domain was the reason that this fabulous exhibit no longer exists. It must have been too expensive to relocate it.

Robert Sacchi on April 29, 2020:

Eminent domain, ouch.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 29, 2020:

Hi Robert,

It closed due to a road that was built going right through that piece of land.

FlourishAnyway from USA on April 28, 2020:

He invested $20 million and a lot of heart and soul into this place and they wanted it for a highway. I can’t imagine what it took to make him relent.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on April 28, 2020:

It's a shame that this exhibit no longer exists. So much hard work must have been involved in its creation. The scenes in your photos are impressive.

Robert Sacchi on April 28, 2020:

Did it close because of a lack of visitors?

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 28, 2020:

Hi Liz,

It was not only visually appealing, but it was so educational to visit this place. Thanks for your virtual visit.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 28, 2020:

Hi Bill,

It was fascinating to learn about Emporer Qin, his dynasty, and the many things that were buried with him. The fact of each terracotta soldier having a different face was amazing! Much time, effort, and money was invested into this site.

Liz Westwood from UK on April 28, 2020:

What a shame that this has closed. It's good that your article preserves it for others to see and read about.

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on April 27, 2020:

Wow, this is/was amazing. I have always wanted to visit the Terra-cotta Soldiers in China. I had no idea that there was a replica in Katy. What a shame that this no longer exists. What an incredible effort to construct this, kudos to Mr. Poon for his efforts.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 27, 2020:

Hi Pamela,

It is a shame that this exhibit could not stay in place as it once was. Katy, Texas is on the western edge of Houston. It is a lovely spot in which to live.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on April 27, 2020:

It is a shame they shut this place down. The pictures are very good and you get a great idea of Chinese styles. This small town seems to be a very nice place to live.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 27, 2020:

Hi Beth,

It is a shame that this exhibit no longer exists. It was so educational for those who got to see it.

Beth Perry from Tennesee on April 27, 2020:

I have enjoyed the revisitation of your article, and what a shame this creative exhibit no longer exists! There was a lot of heart and work put into it.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 27, 2020:

Hi Bill,

It is a shame that this site no longer exists. It was so educational. At least people can still learn about it because of it being saved in digital formats. Thanks for your visit and your emerging love of Katy, Texas. (Smile)

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 27, 2020:

If I ever moved to Texas, which I won't, I would move to Katy. I'm really liking what I see in that small city, thanks to you.

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