Friday, June 24, 2011

The Forbidden City

Around the Forbidden City are communities made up of older homes called siheyuan that are surrounded by usually windowless walls. Multiple families live here. There are very narrow alleys known as hutongs, that run between the walls.  They were built like this for protection. The rooms inside the walls are inward facing with large windows, and arranged around a central courtyard.  Today there are not many of these communities left.  Many were torn down to build the Olympic Park, but there are still some that are on the edge of the Forbidden City moat and scattered throughout Beijing. You can take a pedicab tour, or walk around yourself.  

Pedicabs heading out on tours.

The Forbidden City is officially known today, as the Palace Museum. Originally, there were 9 gates.  The Great Qing Gate used to be where the Monument to the Heroes is now.  The next one is the Gate of Heavenly Peace and this is the main entrance now.  Each gate has an odd number of openings and only the Emperor was allowed to use the middle one. Each set was used by a specific rank of person.
Standing in front of the Gate of Heavenly Peace (Tian'an Men Gate)
A moat runs around the outside of the walls of the city.  It is 2.36 miles long, 170 feet wide and 2m deep.  Not only did it provide protection from invaders, but provided water for the city, and all the run off was directed to the moat.  On the four corners of the walls are watch towers.

The middle walkway is the central axis of the city and runs right through the center from the southern entrance to the back gate, and was used of course only by the Emperor.
Crowds heading into the Gate of Heavenly Peace.  This first gate is the entrance to the Imperial City.  The actual entrance to the Forbidden City  proper is the Meridian Gate.  The Forbidden City was a city within the Imperial City, and both of them were city's within the city of Beijing!  Sort of like nesting boxes!

This is the second gate you go through and it's the Upright Gate or Duanmen Gate.  Look how deep it is, and we went through the Emperors entrance!!
Going into The Meridian Gate or Wumen Gate.  The first two gates look rather the same.  The Meridian Gate is different because it has walls on either side, with watch towers on the corners.  Finally getting into the Forbidden City proper!
I found this 1901 picture of the Meridian Gate on the net.  At that time the Dowager Empress Cixi would still have been the power behind the throne.  She was a concubine who rose to power because she bore the Emperor a son and when he died she put the son (who was a child) on the throne.  She supposedly literally sat concealed by a curtain behind the throne at times and directed affairs of state.  For 47 years she was the power behind two Emperors but she left behind a Imperial system that was behind the times, almost broke, and a mess. She died in 1908 one day after installing Pu Yi as the last Emperor.
One of the Watch Towers.  They could shoot arrows from three sides at invaders.
This is looking at the backside of the Meridian Gate.  There are five marble bridges that go over the Golden Stream, that symbolize the five cardinal virtues of Confucianism, and they also correspond to the five entrances of the gate. The bridges are in an arrow shape which point toward the most important building where the Sun of Heaven (Emperor) ruled. The middle bridge is for the Emperor, the next two are for his family and the outer two for the court officials.This is a huge courtyard that was used for public functions and covers approximately 10,000 sq. m.
One of the bridges.  The water  served as a reservoir for the city and also a decorative feature.  It flows from west to east in a design meant to resemble the jade belt worn by the court officials, and connected the moat on the west side to the moat on the east side of the city.  In Chinese culture water that flows from the west is associated with gold and that's why it is called the Golden River.  There are two Golden rivers in the city, the Inner River and the Outer River.
This is the fourth gate, called the Gate of Supreme harmony or TaiHeMen, and leads into the courtyard in front of the Hall of Supreme Harmony.  
Original stone in courtyard of the Hall of Supreme Harmony.  This courtyard is called the Sea of flagstone.
This isn't a very good picture but it will give you an idea of how large the courtyard in front of the Hall of Supreme Harmony is.  It is the largest of the courtyards and is 30,000 m square. With over 9000 rooms in the city, you could be looking at them for a long time.  They like things big here!  There are no trees allowed in the outer court because they might provide cover for a potential assassin.
This is the Hall of Supreme Harmony and was the most important throne room, where all the official business of the empire took place.  Because this building represented the Imperial kingdom, no other building was allowed to be taller.  It is raised on a 7m high terrace made from marble.  This building has burned down 5 times.
The right side of the Hall of Harmony.  The side buildings are used for exhibitions of jewelry, armor, furniture, clocks, clothes, jade, musical instruments, stone drums, and everything else they used over time.
The throne room in the Hall of  Supreme Harmony.  There are six gilded gold pillars which are  highly decorated.  The first two times it was rebuilt the pillars were made from single nanmu trees, but when it burned a third time,  the nanmu tree was extinct so they were made from pine.  The dais and the throne are carved out of red sandalwood, and the whole place is covered in dragon symbols.  The pearl in the light fixture above (behind the sign)  is said to be able to tell if the Emperor is a fake or not, and if he is, it will drop down and kill him!  They all must have been for real, because l don't think it ever fell!!
Taking  a break with our guide.  The guide was the best investment we made that day.  For two hours we paid $200 RMB's which is around $30 Can.
The Hall of Complete Harmony.  This is where the emperor would practice his speeches and get ready to  go  to the Hall of Supreme harmony to do his thing!!  It's the only square building.
 This throne room was not so elaborate and much lower than the others as the officials would pass in front and the emperor had to be able to inspect the documents etc.
The rectangular building is the Hall of Preserving Harmony, and is the last of the three halls in the outer court.  These also sit on the elevated terrace.
This throne is red enamel and gilt and is in the Hall of Preserving Harmony.  The ceremonial robes were put on here, and at the end of the year a banquet was held here for military and civil leaders.  This hall was also used for the Imperial exams which were held every three years.  The men who passed these exams could expect to have good positions within the the administration of the government.  This system was abolished in 1905.
On the backside of the Hall of Preserving Harmony is this fantastic Dragon Stone Stairway.  There are two top sections and then this one long piece.  The quarry where the marble came from was about 30 miles from Beijing.  Because it was so heavy they had to move it in the winter.  They dug wells every third of a mile and soldiers took water from the wells and put it on the ground to make an ice road.  The stone was put  on a skid and it took 20,000 men and horses to haul the stone to the palace where it was set down and the carvers were able to begin their work.  Incredible!!  The design is made in such a way that water drains away after a rain and very little erosion has taken place.

To the right of the Gate of Heavenly Purity is a restaurant (the long low one).  For a few years Starbucks was using this space, but people didn't like the fact that a foreign company was doing business there and they took it out.
This next gate is the Gate of Heavenly Purity and is the dividing line between the Outer and Inner Court.  It is the only  building in the whole palace that has not burned down at least once, hence it is the oldest building on the site.  The inner court was the living quarters for the emperor and his families.

These two lions guard the gate and they have their ears  hanging down as a reminder to the concubines  and court women that they'd better not interfere in the affairs of state!!
There are  large gilded bronze pots all over the grounds.   Over the century's there were many fires in the city because everything is made from wood.  These pots held water to help fight fires. In the winter a fire is lit under them to keep the water from freezing. There used to be around 300 of these pots, but during the Japanese invasion they melted a bunch of them for bullets and shells, so there are around 200 left.
Sedan chair for the Empress.  This was used for the wedding procession.  She must have been very tiny to fit in one of these chairs!!  Probably the men carrying her were hoping she was too!
Head dress and rings in front.
The Palace of Heavenly Purity.  Emperors were brought here to lie in state when they died.
Throne room in Palace of heavenly Purity.  This throne sits behind a desk where the emperor reviewed documents etc.   It was used for audiences and meetings.
Whats that old song?  Knocking on heavens door?  The entrance to the concubines quarters!!!  Good luck with that!!  The only "man" that was allowed to live in the city was the Emperor and boys in his family!  All other men were eunuchs. At one time there were 70,000 of them working in the city.  In the beginning it was mostly captives that were castrated, but later on poor families would choose to send their boys there because of the possibility of wealth and power they could achieve working for the Emperor.
These glazed tiles are the same as is on the roofs of all the buildings.
Paintings on the beams.  The double dragons says only the emperor was allowed there, but the one with the phoenix says the empress could go there.

Heading into the woman's living quarters.  These next pictures are all of the woman's living area.

The pictures above are of the woman's rooms.
Looking inside to one of the rooms in the woman's building. They don't look like much from the outside, but inside they are filled with silk, and priceless art objects.
The last Emperor wanted a telephone and he finally got one but the officials were appalled that he would talk to ordinary people. He was only 3 when he ascended the throne and it's said he cried through it all and wanted to go home!  He was the last of the 24 Emperors and in1912 the 2000 year old system was ended but Pu Yi stayed on in the city till 1924 and was then imprisoned under the Communists until Mao granted him amnesty in 1959.  He died in 1967 after working for 7 years as a gardener.
One of the beautiful jade carvings that are everywhere in the rooms.  I was kind of disappointed that you had to look through the windows into a lot of the rooms and they were not lit up so it was hard to see the beautiful colors.  
This is the Well of concubine Zhen.  She was the favorite concubine of one of the last Emperors in the early 1900's.  The emperor wanted to make some reforms and the Dowager Empress Cixi, who held most of the power decided to declare war on the 8 western powers instead and that decision finished the imperial court.  When the court was fleeing the city as the Europeans were attacking, she ordered that the concubine Zhen be thrown down the well because she had backed the Emperor in his reforms.  The well is larger under its covering.  The concubine should have paid attention to those lions who said not to meddle in state affairs!
The Pavilion of  Ten Thousand Springs.  The names of everything are so flowery!
Ancient trees is the garden.  By the time you get here you need somewhere to rest!!  
Heading out the northern gate.
The Gate of Divine Might - the northern Gate
Leaving the Gate of Divine Might and looking over to Bei Hai Park which  until  1925 was an Imperial Park and part of the Forbidden City.

These two pictures are of the Arrow Tower.  There used to be 2 of these gates attached to a wall but it was taken down in the 20th century.  It is behind Tian'anMen Square.
National Museum
Great Hall of the People.  Monument to the Heroes in foreground.
Mao's Mausoleum with the Arrow Gate in the background.

Well!! This was a long one, and we only saw the most basic of things.   Now that l know approximately where some things are situated, l'd like to go back and see all the exhibition halls and really explore the many rooms.  To really see it all would take a full day or more, but well worth the time.  The city of Beijing has so much to see.  It was a great trip!!

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