China’s Imperial Palace, also known as the Forbidden City, is the oldest and grandest imperial structure in the Middle Kingdom. It was once the stately home of 24 different emperors and their attendants and families during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Much like the White House in Washington or London’s Buckingham Palace, for almost 500 years, the Forbidden City served as both a royal residence and the center of the Chinese government.
The Forbidden City sits on a north-south axis at the center of Beijing and forms the core of sightseeing and design in the capital city. At its main gate on the south side, the Imperial Palace is flanked by Tiananmen Square and the Great Hall of the People, which is the modern seat of China’s government. The palace comprises a rectangular shape that, at 961 meters, is more than half a mile in length.
Today, the Forbidden City houses the Palace Museum and is the second most popular tourist site in all of China after, of course, the Great Wall. Millions of tourists come from around China and the world each year to visit this ancient seat of one of the most powerful governments on earth.
Walking through the Imperial Palace, you immediately notice the symmetry of the buildings, which are all situated on the exact north-to-south axis and formed in the same way, each with one small hall sitting amid a larger courtyards. Walking north through the palace from the main gate, the courtyards become smaller and smaller, until you reach the Palace of Heavenly Purity and Imperial Garden, where at one time only the emperor and empress were allowed.
The Forbidden City is a cultural gem and a treasure of ancient Chinese architecture. Its red tiled roofs expand as icons across the center of Beijing, and inside the palace walls are housed dozens of cherished relics from the imperial eras. Its impending red walls, delicate gardens and ornate eaves are among the finest examples of Chinese architectural design still in existence.