Forbidden City
The Forbidden City


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The Forbidden City

For over 500 years the Forbidden City in Beijing was home to 24 Ming and Qing emperors, along with their families, servants and eunuchs. As its name suggests, common people were barred from entering. Thus, during the imperial era, a residential quarter outside the walls housed courtiers and government officials.

The Forbidden City was designed to represent a scale model of the cosmos, with the ultimate purpose of projecting the emperor's connection to heaven. Construction began in 1406 and 14 years later 800 buildings were surrounded by a 9-metre-high, 2,428-metre long red wall. In turn, that wall was surrounded by a 16-metre-wide, two-meter-deep moat.

In 1911 the Qing dynasty was ousted marking the end of the Imperial era. Consequently, it wasn't until 1925 that members of the public entered the Forbidden City for the very first time.

Many Chinese refer to the Forbidden City as 'The Great Within'

In 1987, the Forbidden City was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status. Subsequently, in 1997, $24 million was invested in renovations. Work included replacing two-foot-long grey bricks in the walls and dredging the moat, which now contains fish.

Its chambers and storehouses contain 1,052,653 rare and valuable objects, none of which are on display. Consequently, discussions regarding the building of a three-story museum below the city to house these precious objects are ongoing.

Currently, it is once more in the midst of a major renovation to celebrate the 600th anniversary of the imperial compound. The World Monument Fund is involved in restoring the Qianlong Garden and some of the buildings where the Qianlong Emperor lived.

Starbucks at the Forbidden City

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In the year 2000 coffee purveyors Starbucks were invited to trade inside the Forbidden City in the hope of raising money for the upkeep of the 72-hectare site. The premises were placed in a building where court officials once waited for a morning audience with the Emperor.

Subsequently, an internet protest claiming the presence of the coffee chain 'undermined the solemnity of the Imperial Palace' and was 'A symbol of low-end U.S. food culture' and 'an insult to Chinese civilisation'.

Consequently, in 2007 the coffee shop ceased its operations in the Forbidden City.

Photographing the Forbidden City

Tourism in China is growing at an astounding rate and the Forbidden City is its most popular attraction, seeing 15 million visitors per year. Large crowds and long waiting times are commonplace here. The busiest periods are between March and June, and August to November.

Patience and a pair of comfy shoes are the order of the day here. Due to the sheer number of bodies passing through, it's handy to tune into your peripheral vision and think on your feet. A wide-angle lens will also be useful due to the sheer size of the Forbidden City.

The main entrance gate at the Tiananmen Square side is a popular shot. Here iconic Chinese guards are watched over by a huge portrait of Chairman Mao, leaving no one in doubt as to its location.

Once inside, popular spots include the Gate of Supreme Harmony, Hall of Central Harmony and the Palace of Heavenly Purity. Additionally, the Imperial Garden with its tapestry of trees and pathways are worthwhile lens fodder.

After a day of that lot, you'll probably want to visit the Hall of Mental Cultivation, for some mental cultivation.

Completely Useless Facts about the Forbidden City

  • The entire city of Beijing is a series of concentric circles around the Forbidden City
  • It is said to contain 9,999 rooms (the number 9 in China represents longevity), but in fact, there are only 8,707
  • The complex is so vast that it takes workmen ten years to complete the maintenance on all the buildings. When they're finished, they start again
  • All the buildings face south following Feng Shui principles; to absorb energy from the male yang forces in the south.
  • The English version of the audio tour is dictated by the actor Roger Moore.

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Fancy mooching where you not supposed to?... Head to the city that's forbidden.

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