Skip to main content

The History of the Forbidden City

Angela loves history and feels it is essential to our future to know the past—or else we're destined to repeat it.

A panoramic view of the Meridian Gate in the Forbidden City: Beijing, China.

A panoramic view of the Meridian Gate in the Forbidden City: Beijing, China.

Why Was the Forbidden City Built?

From 1406 to 1911, the Forbidden City was home to 24 different emperors. It is one of the most well-known places in Beijing, second to the Great Wall of China. Walls surround the city, which was its security against regular citizens. The emperors felt that the city should be a sacred place where only the elite would be allowed to enter. By limiting access to the Forbidden City, the emperors of China believed that the city maintained its supremacy. Despite the limited population, the Forbidden City is and was a prominent place for all Chinese people.

It was initially the Imperial Palace of the Ming and Qing dynasty. Emperor Chengzu requested the construction of the vast city. He asked for its isolation and forbid the entrance. Puyi of Qing was the last emperor to live there. He resided in the Imperial Palace until he abdicated the throne. Due to its forbidden nature, the security was extremely tight. Security included many structures ranging from watchtowers, walls, and a moat was its strength against infiltration and armed men.

The Palace Museum

The uses of the Forbidden City changed drastically after the Qing Dynasty was destroyed. In 1925, the Forbidden City became open to the public and established the Palace Museum. Since it was no longer a city where people resided, they wanted to preserve the great history that the city holds, allowing those who call China their homeland to know its rich history.

In 1961, the Palace Museum became one of China's key places for preservation of cultural relics. Many priceless items have been placed here for safekeeping and are very well protected from ever being destroyed or stolen. The Palace Museum can only be entered through the Tiananmen Gate. This gate lies on the north side.

Forbidden City Imperial Guardian Lions

Forbidden City Imperial Guardian Lions

The History: Construction of the City

Construction began in 1406 during Ming Emperor Yongle's reign. It took 100,000 skilled technicians 15 years to finish it, along with millions of laborers. The walls envelop a 720,000 square meters rectangular piece of land. The walls stand 10 meters high, and the perimeter is 73.5 kilometers. Each wall is the shape of a trapezoid. The bottom is more substantial and gets narrower towards the top. There are four corner towers, which acted as defense watchtowers. You could enter the city at one of the four gates on each side of the rectangular wall. If the walls were not deterrent enough for possible invaders, in 1420, workers created a 52-meter wide moat surrounding the walls of the Forbidden City.

Inside the walls are numerous pavilions, squares, and gardens. Within the buildings that lie in the Forbidden City are 8,704 halls and rooms. All construction coincides with the five elements and the Yin Yang philosophy. There are two parts of the palace: the Inner Court that held state affairs, and the Outer Court that held imperial concubines and was home to the empress.

Meridian Gate in the Forbidden City, Beijing, China.

Meridian Gate in the Forbidden City, Beijing, China.

Meridian Gate

The city's buildings are ornately created with detailed patterns on tapestry and luxurious colors, such as deep red and gold. One of the most recognized features is the pair of bronze lions at the Gate of Supreme Harmony, also known as the Meridian Gate. They are the largest set of Chinese lions within the Forbidden City. This is because the Meridian Gate was the highest-ranking gate in the entire city. This is where the emperors would handle all of the state affairs, as well as listen to the minister's reports. They even issued many imperial edicts here.

The Meridian Gate was not only a place for great work, but also magnificent enjoyment. The emperors held numerous important ceremonies at the Hall of Supreme Harmony, like the emperor's enthronement. During the Qing Dynasty, they held the emperor's wedding there. It was a fantastic event that caused the whole palace to be decorated with lanterns and colored hangings.

A view of the Chinese Imperial Garden in the Forbidden City: Beijing China.

A view of the Chinese Imperial Garden in the Forbidden City: Beijing China.

Chinese Imperial Garden

The Imperial Garden is another place of great interest. It is 11,000 meters squared and located at the northern point. Dozens of Lianli trees grow here. A Lianli tree is where two tree branches interlock. The pair that cross the axis line is the most famous, and many memorable photos have been taken here, including one with Qing Emperor Puyi and his wife. The florists take excellent care of the gardens here.

The Forbidden City is a place of great history in China, where many emperors from the Ming and Qing dynasties ruled. Although one can explore the great city, many great facts will forever be lost within these walls.

Fun Facts

  • The Zhen Fei Well got its name from Emperor Guangxu's favorite concubine. The story goes that Cixi, Guangxu's wife, ordered Zhen Fei to be drowned in this well because she was extremely jealous of her. After she died, Guangxu named the well in remembrance of Zhen Fei.
  • An image of the water God Xuanwu enshrines in the hall. Those who lived here felt that this protected the city against fire, as well as allowed safety during construction.
  • Above the bed in the black hall of Yangxin Dian (Hall of Mental Cultivation), where the emperor lived, a sign reads, "You Ri Xin," which means Reaping Renewal.
  • The Highest Structure in the Forbidden City is the Wei Mein, also known as the Meridian Gates. This gate is the front gate and stands 38 meters high.
  • Emperor Shunzhi was the youngest reigning ruler. He ascended the throne at six years old.


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.

© 2010 Angela Michelle Schultz


Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on September 02, 2010:

So am I, I hope someday I'll get to see it in real life!

Erin on September 01, 2010:

Cool,I like the pics.

pretty good.

I'm very interested in the forbidden city by the way!

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on April 27, 2010:

Only some of the pictures are ours, most were taken from gettyimages. Well, I guess you can tell which ones. I didn't get to go on this trip with my husband, since it was with his MBA group, but someday he plans to go back and take me this time.

BkCreative from Brooklyn, New York City on April 27, 2010:

Oooh, I had the pleasure of visiting - and my cousin is there right now. I don't have these beautiful photos however, they are great! Thanks so much.

Great hub!

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on April 26, 2010:

Cool GarnetBird, you should write a hub about it, if you haven't already. That sounds like it would be interesting. :)

Gloria Siess from Wrightwood, California on April 26, 2010:

NICE; I have been studying the 1st Emperior Wang--it's so complicted and interesting. GREAT photos.

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on April 25, 2010:

My husband took many of them, the rest I got off of I get almost all my photos from there, but I try to use from my own photo reel as well. :)

EyesAndEars from Somewhere over the rainbow.... on April 25, 2010:

beautiful pictures.