You can’t prove you have been to China until you have your photo taken outside the Forbidden City.
Or so my tour guide tells me.
The towering red walls with the gigantic painting of Chairman Mao are one of the most well-known buildings on the planet.
But how much do you actually know about the Forbidden City?
Here’s a few facts you should know before you go.
The Forbidden City is the world’s largest imperial palace. It covers 720,000 square metres, has more than 90 palace quarters and courtyards, 980 buildings and more than 8,728 rooms.
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The more important the building – the more animals or dragons you will see on the roof ridges.
All but one of the gates in the Forbidden City is decorated with a nine-by-nine array of gilded door-studs. Nine implies supremacy and eternity in Chinese culture. The odd one out? The East gate.
A home for emperors
The Forbidden City was home to 24 Chinese emperors. Construction began with Emperor Yongle, of the Ming Dynasty in 1406. More than 1 million laborers worked to complete the complex which was finished in 1420. Fourteen Ming dynasty rulers held power here until the Manchus took possession in 1644. The Manchus then left the building and moved the capital to Shenyang for a few months.
The Qing Dynasty returned power to Beijing and the Forbidden City, 10 Qing emperors ruled from here until the last in 1912, when the Republic of China was created.
A home for his mistresses
At the back of the Forbidden City you will find the homes of the concubines. Only the empress was allowed to spend a full night with the emperor. The other mistresses were given just two hours.
Useful huge pots
Huge metal pots can be seen scattered around the Forbidden City. These were kept full with water and were used to put out fires.
The nine dragon screen
The nine dragon screen was nearly an eight dragon screen. Erected in 1771 the screen is 3.5 metres tall and 29.4 metres long. It has made from 270 multi-coloured glass tiles. Nine clawed dragons can be seen on a blue and green background. But the third dragon from the left is a different colour to all the others. According to the legend the dragon was not ready when the screen was meant to be unveiled. The emperor had told the craftsmen they would be beheaded if it was not ready in time. A carpenter made a wooden dragon and glued it into place. No one lost their heads.
Jade Hill, found in the Hall of Happy Longevity, is the largest piece of carved jade in China. Made from a single six-tonne boulder it stands at 2.24 metres high and is almost a metre wide. It took 1000 people and 1000 horses three years to haul the boulder from Xinjiang Province and more than a year to carve.
It depicts the story of the “Days of Harnessing Floods”or the taming of the Yellow River flood waters by Yu the Great in the 21st century BC.
Ruthless and brilliant, Empress Dowager Cici effectively ruled China from the Forbidden City. She was born November 29, 1835 and died November 15, 1908. Cici was the consort of the Xianfeng emperor (1850–61), mother of the Tongzhi emperor (1861–75) and adoptive mother of the Guangxu emperor (1875–1908).
Cici was one of Xianfeng’s lowest concubines, but she bore his only son. When the emperor died, power transferred to the six-year-old boy. State business was put in the hands of a regency council of eight elder officials. However, Cici and Xianfeng’s former senior consort, Ci’an, orchestrated a coup with Gong Qinwang (Prince Gong), the former emperor’s brother. The regency was transferred to Cici and Ci’an. Gong became the prince counsellor.
The regency was terminated in 1873 when the Tongzhi came of age. He died two years later.
Cici then arranged to adopt her three-year-old nephew, Zaitian (Ci’an’s son), and have him named the new heir. Ci’an and Cici acted as regents until Ci’an’s death in 1881. Cici then became the sole holder of the office.
If you are going to the Forbidden City, we highly recommend reading more about this fascinating woman.
You can’t see it all
Up to 40 per cent of the Forbidden City is off-limits to the public.
Go there: 9 day China tour for only $1999