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Virtual Guide to the Forbidden City

As you know, the Forbidden City contains 9,999 buildings, so it is easy to get lost unless one is familiar with the Chinese architectural layout, although it is definitely symmetrical. Now I will take you for a virtual tour around the mysterious palace complex. Follow me and don't get yourself lost!!!

Now start your tour in the Forbidden City from Wumen, called Meridian Gate in English. It is also named Five-Phoenix Tower, Wufenglou in Chinese, for it looks like a phoenix with five pavilion buildings up there. It's the main gate and south gate of the Forbidden City. Inside the Meridian Gate, there appear Inner Golden Water Bridges. Water flows beneath these white marble bridges. The Golden Water River of this section is very gorgeous, well decorated. The riverbed and the bank were paved with white stones. Decorative marble columns and banisters were established along the river. Standing on the bridges, one can see a grand structure called Gate of Supreme Harmony (Taihemen), which is the most impressive gate in the city with two bronze lions guarding the front. On the square between Taihemen and Wumen, imperial honor guards paraded before grand ceremonies.

The three main halls of the outer court, Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihedian), Hall of Central Harmony (Zhonghedian) and Hall of Preserved Harmony (Baohedian) form a line inside the gate. These halls are all situated on three-tier marble terraces, with ornate marble balustrades. A stone ramp carved with coiled dragons and clouds is located between the steps leading up to each hall. The ramp of Baohedian (Hall of Preserved Harmony) is the largest of these.

The first and grandest hall is Taihedian (Hall of Supreme Harmony), where emperors exercised their autocracy over the whole country. This is where the emperor ascended his throne and granted audience to visiting officials and other important events were celebrated. The hall is flanked by Wenhuadian (Hall of Literary Glory) and Wuyingdian (Hall of Martial Velour). The former, on the right side, used to be the study of the crown princes, where banquets and some rites were held. The latter, on the left side, is the imperial press where many books were compiled and published and where Li Zicheng, leader of the famous peasants revolt, ascended his throne after overthrowing the Ming dynasty. On the north of Wenhuadian lies Wenyuange (Pavilion of Literary Source), the imperial library where the world largest encyclopedia Sikuquanshu (Complete Library of the Four Treasures of Knowledge) was housed. The library architecture has many Chinese cultural facts in its structure and decoration. Nanxundian (South Fragrance Hall) near Wuyingdian is where portraits of emperors of dynasties are kept.

Behind Taihedian is Zhonghedian (Hall of Central Harmony), a square building much smaller than Taihedian. It was the place where the emperor rested on his way to Taihedian and interviewed his ministers or officials from the Ministry of Rites and rehearsals for ceremonies were also held here.

Baohedian (Hall of Preserved Harmony), the second largest architecture in the palace, is the rear hall of the Outer Court. Imperial banquets were often given here to entertain high officials. Emperors presided the final stage of national examinations to select officials from intellectuals all over the country in this hall.

Leaving the Baohedian, visitors will see Gate of Celestial Purity (Qianqingmen), which is the boundary of the Outer Court and the Inner Court. Inside the gate, is the residence of the royal family. In the Qing Dynasty, Emperor Kangxi often heard reports from high officials and issued his orders under the gate. The Inner Court is divided into three parts. The three halls on the center axis are the main structures and they are smaller in size than the three halls in the Outer Court, although they look the same in style. Six Western Palaces (Xiliugong) and Six Eastern Palaces (Dongliugong) are also important complexes, for it was here that the imperial concubines resided.

The first hall inside the Qianqingmen is Palace of Celestial Purity (Qianqinggong), which was originally the bedroom of emperors as well as their office. Emperors also gave banquets here. Behind it is a smaller hall named Hall of Celestial and Terrestrial Union (Jiaotaidian), where empresses received greetings from others concubines. It was used to store the emperor's and empress's imperial seals. The third hall on the central axis is Palace of Terrestrial Tranquility (Kunninggong), which was empress' bedroom.

On the left side of the Inner Court, Hall of Mental Cultivation (Yangxindian) and Six Western Palaces (Xiliugong) stand from north to south. Yangxindian (Hall of Mental Cultivation) was an important hall in the palace since from Emperor Yongzheng, most emperors later lived and attended to state affairs here. North of Yangxindian, is located Xiliugong (Six Western Palaces), which consists of Yongshougong (Palace of Eternal Longevity), Yikungong (Palace of the Queen Consort), Chuxiugong (Palace for Gathering Elegance), Taijidian (Hall of the Supreme Pole), Changchungong (Palace of Eternal Spring) and Xianfugong (Palace of Universal Happiness). The first three are on the right and the second three on the left along a north-south alley.

On the right side of the Outer Court, viz. east side, there are Hall for Ancestry Worship (Fengxiandian), Zhaigong (Palace of Abstinence) where emperors practiced abstinence a few days before going to offer sacrifices at the Temple of Heaven or the Temple of Earth, and Dongliugong (Six Eastern Palaces) which consists of Jingrengong (Palace of Great Benevolence), Chengqiangong (Palace of Celestial Favour), Yonghegong (Palace of Eternal Harmony), Jingyanggong (Palace of Great Brilliance), Zhongcuigong (Palace of Purity) and Yanxigong (Palace of Lasting Happiness). In a separate enclosure further east are two palaces which Emperor Qianlong built for his abdication. They are Palace of Tranquil Longevity (Ningshougong) and Huangjidian (Hall of Imperial Supremacy). Further north, there are Yangxingdian (Hall of Temper Cultivation), Hall of Joyful Longevity (Leshoutang) and Yihexuan (Pavilion of Sustained Harmony). Now most these palaces on the east are exhibition halls displaying different curiosities.

North of the Inner Court is Imperial Garden (Yuhuayuan). Though small in size, it is exquisitely laid out with towers, pavilions, artificial hills, springs, rocks, old trees, flowers and lawns - a replica of the gardens of southern China.

Just behind the garden is Shenwumen (Gate of Divine Might), the rear gate of the Forbidden City. On the gate there was a drum and a bell. The bell used to toll 108 times to announce a new day while the drum rataplaned the time in the night.

Can you find the way? And are you impressed by the grandness and magnificence of the world's largest palace structure?                               Forbidden City -Meridian Gate


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