Hu’s going to the Forbidden City (I)!

After the morning’s good news, we headed for breakfast:

Upon entering the dining area, we were asked for our choice of coffee or tea and were served promptly after we took our seats.

Before checking out the food, we decided to step out of the dining area to have a view of the scenery around The Emperor (北京皇家驿栈):

If only it’s snowing… 😛

A shot of us:

Our eyes a reeeeeeeeally tiny because the sun was getting in them.
And wow, our complexion looks flawless! 😉

They’ve got a decent spread of international food…

Their pastries were all right – the croissants taste better after toasting though.

The cereal area doesn’t have J’s favourite chocolatey KoKo Krunch nor CoCo Pops. 😦

What we eventually chose to have:

A little of everything to try and taste.

We asked for an omelette too:

After breakfast, we headed for Forbidden City (故宫, once known as 紫禁城).

From The Emperor (北京皇家驿栈), we headed south on Beichizi St (北池子大街):

Turn right at Donghuamen Intersection (东华门大街口) onto Donghuamen St (东华门大街)

We saw the 东华门 upon turning right from Donghuamen Intersection (东华门大街口):

Hello, Forbidden City!! 😀

The ‘moat’ around Forbidden City has frozen!

There’s no entry to Forbidden City from 东华门, so we had to continue walking on Donghuamen Rd (东华门路) until we got to the main entrance.

This is one of the 4 watchtowers (角楼) in 故宫 (Forbidden City).

There is 1 watchtower in every corner of 故宫 (Gu gong).

That’s the entrance to 故宫, 午门 (Wu Men) with the surrounding buildings undergoing restoration:

The ticket office is away from the entrance:

There were many tourist guides asking if visitors needed guides – we chose not to have a guide as we would be renting an audio guide.

Tickets are priced at RMB 20 (SGD 4.20) for students and RMB 40 (SGD 8.40) for adults:

Built in 1406 – 1420, The Imperial Palace, popularly known as The Forbidden City, was the permanent residence of the Emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Its buildings are divided into two parts – the front part (or the “Outer Court”) and the rear part (or the “Inner Court”):

The Outer Court consists of “太和殿” (Tai He Dian (Hall)), “中和殿”(Zhong He Dian (Hall)) and “保和殿” (Bao He Dian (Hall)), which are taken as its main body, plus “文华殿” (Wen Hua Dian (Hall)) and “武英殿” (Wu Ying Dian (Hall)), which are taken as its two wings, where the Emperor held important ceremonies.

The Inner Court consists of three routes:

  1. Along the central route are the “乾清宫” (Qian Qing Gong (Palace)), “交泰殿” (Jiao Tai Dian (Hall)), “坤宁宫” (Kun Ning Gong (Palace)) and “御花园” (Yu Hua Yuan (Garden)), where the Emperor handled routine affairs and He and His Empress and Concubines lives or spent their leisure hours.
  2. On the western route are the “养心殿” (Yang Xin Dian (Hall)) plus the six West Palaces.
  3. The six East Palaces and “宁寿全宫” (Ning Shou Quan Gong (Palace)) are on the eastern route.

Hence, our post will be divided into 4 parts:

  1. Outer Court
  2. Inner Court – West route
  3. Inner Court – Central route
  4. Inner Court – East route

The Imperial Palace is the largest and most complete group of ancient buildings which China has preserved to the present. It embodies the fine tradition and national style of ancient Chinese architectural art.

In 1961, The Imperial Palace was listed by the State Council as one of the “Important Historical Monuments under the Protection of the Government” and in 1987, it was affirmed by the UNESCO as a “World Heritage”.

From Ming to Qing Dynasties, a total of 24 Emperors lived here. The Qing Dynasty was overthrown in the Revolution of 1911. From then on, as the Feudal Imperial Palace, the Forbidden City completed its historical mission. In 1914, the “Museum of Antiques” was housed in the Outer Court. In 1925, the Palace Museum (故宫) was established.

Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, not only have the palace buildings been repaired but also a vast amount of work done on the arrangement, restoration, collection and exhibition of precious cultural relics.

Today, some of the halls of palaces are kept as they were originally furnished while the others are used to exhibit special art treasures, such as jewellery, ancient paintings, bronzes, ceramics, arts and crafts, clocks and watches, which show the age-old and splendid historical civilisation of the Chinese nation.

This is the 午门 (Wu Men), Meridian Gate:

Before entering 故宫 (Gu Gong), we got ourselves an audio guide each from the left corner of 午门:

We rented the guides at RMB 20 (SGD 4.20) as we could understand Mandarin; there are audio guides in other languages going at RMB 40 (SGD 8.40).

There is a map on the audio guide, showing 2 routes we could possibly take:

The audio guide had already started when we put it on, so we took a while to get our bearing and have an idea how it actually worked; we were told it worked by GPS and it’ll play depending on where you are in 故宫.

Anyway, the first stop was 午门 (Wu Men), Meridian Gate:

It has five openings, and is the largest and main gate of the Forbidden City; at our point of visit, however, 2 of the openings were closed for restoration.
There were strict rules to follow when people entered the Forbidden City.
Entering through the central opening was the emperors’ exclusive privilege; their empresses were allowed to go through the opening only once – on their wedding day.
The top three in the national examinations, presided by the emperor in the final stage, would be allowed to pass through the central arch once on leaving after meeting the emperor.
The east opening was for the ministers while the west opening was for the royal family.
(These openings were the ones closed.)
The other openings were for other officials.
Ordinary people were absolutely forbidden to enter the city.
” (Taken from Kinabaloo)

Today, however, visitors enter through the central tunnel and hence get a first glimpse of the vast spaces and grand structures within the Forbidden City:

This is the 太和门 (Tai He Men), Gate of Supreme Harmony:

This is the front gate of the Outer Court and was constructed in 1420 during the Ming Dynasty. Originally, it was named “奉天门” (Feng Tian Men), Gate for Worshipping Heaven, but later, it was renamed “皇极门” (Huang Ji Men), Gate of Imperial Supremacy, in 1535 and eventually “太和门” (Tai He Men) in 1645 during the Qing Dynasty. It was burnt down in 1888 during the Qing Dynasty and was reconstructed in 1889.

Located on a 3.4-meters-high base, the gate has a gable roof and carved overhanging eaves. It is nine bays wide and four bays deep, with an area of 1,300 square meters. It is the most magnificent gate in the Forbidden City. In front of the gate stand the largest pair of bronze lions in the palace. The lions were case in the Ming Dynasty.

During the Ming Dynasty, the emperors held morning court and accepted memorials from officials here. When Emperor Shunzhi of the Qing Dynasty ascended the throne, he issued his first decree at this gate.

One of the 2 largest bronze lions in the palace:

This is the back of 太和门:

Up ahead and quite a walk away is the 太和殿 (Tai He Dian), Hall of Supreme Harmony:

As the first and main hall of the three major halls of the Outer Court of the Forbidden City, 太和殿 (Tai He Dian) is commonly known as the Hall of Golden Chimes. First constructed in 1420 during the Ming Dynasty, the hall was rebuilt several times after a number of fires caused by lightning. The present 太和殿 was constructed in 1695.

In the early Ming Dynasty, it was named “奉天殿” (Feng Tian Dian), Hall for Worshipping Heaven, then renamed “皇极殿” (Huang Ji Dian), Hall of Imperial Supremacy, in 1562 and eventually “太和殿” (Tai He Dian), Hall of Supreme Harmony in 1645. The words “太和” (Tai He) mean ‘harmonious operation of all things on earth’.

Constructed on a three-tiered white marble base, the hall is 11 bays wide, five bays deep and 35.05 meters high. With a thatched hall style of four fully hipped double roofs, this ancient building has a construction area of 2,377 square meters. The eave corners are decorated with 10 animals, an example of the decoration on China’s ancient buildings.

Arranged in front of the hall are a sundial and a grain measure, both symbols of Imperial power, as well as bronze turtles and cranes, symbols of longevity:

1. 日晷 (Ri Gui), Sundial:

Round in shape, this sundial is made of white marble stone, with graduations on both sides. The gnomons (part of a sundial that casts the shadow) are made of iron and placed vertical to the dial. The square base of the dial is supported by four stone pillars. The dial is located on a base obliquely, parallel with the equator. The gnomons point to the North and South Poles. The sundial is a device which during hours of sunlight indicated the time by a shadow cast by a gnomon on a dial marked in hours.

During the six months from the Spring Equinox to the Autumnal Equinox, the graduations on the surface of the dial (or to the north of the equator) indicate the time; and during the six months from the Autumnal Equinox to the Spring Equinox, the gradations on the back of the dial (or to the south of the equator) tell the time.

The placing of the sundial in front of the hall symbolises that the Emperor had the highest power to grant time to all the people in the country.

2. 嘉量 (Jia Liang), Grain Measure:

The grain measure is a standard measure of ancient China and consists of five units: “斛” (hu), “斗” (dou), “升” (sheng), “合” (he), and “龠” (yue). The upper part of the large container in the middle is “斛” (hu) and the lower part, “斗” (dou); the container on the left is “升” (sheng); the upper part of the container on the right is “合” (he) and the lower part is “龠” (yue).

The grain measure was made in 1744 (the Ninth year of the Qianlong reign period) in imitation of those of the Wang Mang reign of the Han Dynasty. Cast in bronze, the grain measure is plated with gold and bears an inscription by Emperor Qianlong.

The placing of the grain measure in the front of the hall indicates that the Emperor designated weights and measures, unifying the country.

3. Turtles symbolise longevity:

4. Cranes symbolise longevity too:

The hall is paved with high-quality square clay bricks commonly known as ‘golden bricks’. The throne is located on the axial line of the Imperial Palace. Above the throne is a board with an inscription writted by 乾隆皇 (Emperor Qianlong (1711 – 1799)) reading, “建極綏猷 / 建极绥猷” (Jian Ji Sui You), “which says roughly, “to the god, to the people”, meaning that the emperor stood between heaven and the people and was responsible to both. The duty to god comes first, but the wishes of the people are in balance. In traditional characters, the inscription is read from right to left: “猷綏極建”. (The present plaque is a copy made from an old photograph found by the Museum staff after 1924 when they began the restorations and remodeling to make the Forbidden City into a museum. Yuan Shikai, the warlord who bargained his way to become the first President of the Republic, had had ambitions of founding his own dynasty 中华帝国 (Zhōnghuá dìguó), with himself as the Hongxian Emperor 洪宪 (Hóngxiàn). He had the throne removed and substituted a modern overstuffed couch and removed the plaque and couplets. Fortunately, the museum staff found the throne in storage when they took over, but could not find the plaque.)” (Quoted). The caisson in the centre of the ceiling has a carved crouching dragon with a bright pearl (known as 轩辕镜 (Xuanyuan Mirror)) in its mouth.

During the Ming and Qing Dynasties, important ceremonies and celebrations (such as the Lunar New Year, Winter Solstice, the birthday of the Emperor, the enthronement of a new Emperor, installing of a new Empress, announcing the names of successful candidates in official examinations and sending generals out to battle) were held at the 太和殿 (Tai He Dian).

D looking at 太和门 (Tai He Men) from 太和殿 (Tai He Dian):

Charming (for J) to see D “deep in thought”! 😉

To the right and left of 太和殿, we saw many vats like this:

Here’s J being a ‘marker’ (with another vat we saw as we toured):

The vats are actually copper and iron vats, which were part of the fire-fighting equipment in the palace. They were filled with water to be used to douse fires. From October to February every year, the vats were covered with quilts to prevent the water from freezing and on very cold days, they were heated with charcoal fire.

The oldest vats were cast during the Hongzhi reign period (1488 – 1505) of the Ming Dynasty. Each of the Ming Dynasty vats has two iron rings while those cast in Qing Dynasty had two beast-shaped bronze rings, a big belly and a small mouth.

The Palace Museum has a total of 308 copper and iron vats of various sizes. Of them, 18 are copper vats inlaid with gold and located on both sides of 太和殿 (Tai He Dian, Hall of Supreme Harmony), 保和殿 (Bao He Dian, Hall of Preserved Harmony) and 乾清门 (Qian Qing Men, Gate of Heavenly Purity).
This is the back of 太和殿:

This is the 中和殿 (Zhong He Dian), Hall of Central Harmony:

First constructed in 1420 during the Ming Dynasty, “中和殿” (Zhong He Dian) was destroyed and reconstructed several times over the centuries. The existing hall was constructed in 1627 during. The Ming Dynasty. In the early Ming Dynasty, this hall was call “花开殿” (Hua Kai Dian), Hall of Overwhelming Glory, but was renamed “中级殿” (Zhong Ji Dian), Hall of Central zextremity, in 1562 and finally “中和殿” (Zhong He Dian) in 1645 during the Qing Dynasty.

This square building has a single pyramid-shaped roof,with a gold-plated bronze covering.

The floor is paved with high-quality square clay bricks, commonly known as ‘golden bricks’. A throne is placed in the centre of the hall and a board above the throne with an inscription written by 乾隆皇 (Emperor Qianlong) reading, “允执厥中” (Yun Zhi Jue Zhong), which means “The way of Heaven is profound and mysterious while the way of mankind is difficult. Only if we make a precise and unified plan and follow the doctrine of the mean, can we rule the country well.”

This hall served as a resting place for the emperor on his way to attend an important ceremony or hold court. Officials kowtows to the Emperor here. The day before the Emperor held a sacrificial ceremony, he would read the prayer tablet aloud in this hall. Before offering sacrifices at the Alter of the God of Agriculture, the Emperor examined ceremonial farm tools here. After the revision of the Imperial pedigree (revised once every ten years), the Emperor read the pedigree aloud and held a grand ceremony at the hall.

The words “中和” (Zhong He) are from the ‘Book of Rites’, meaning “When we handle matters properly and harmoniously without taking sides, all things on Earth will fluorish.”

Next up is 保和殿 (Bao He Dian), Hall of Preserved Harmony:

First constructed in 1420 during the Ming Dynasty, this hall was destroyed by fire and reconstructed several times. It still retains its original beams and columns. In the early Ming Dynasty, it was named “谨慎殿” (Jin Shen Dian, Hall of Scrupulous Behaviour). During the Qing Dynasty, in 1562, it was renamed Jian Ji Dian, Hall of People’s Sovereignty and finally “保和殿” (Bao He Dian) in 1645.

The hall is nine bays wide and four bays deep, with a gabel roof and carved overhanging eaves. It has an area of 1,240 square meters.

The construction of the hall adopted a special “pillar-reduction” method. By omitting six pillars from under the front eaves, the hall is given a spacious feeling. Above the throne, at the centre of the hall, hands a board with an inscription inscription written by 乾隆皇 (Emperor Qianlong) reading, “皇建有極” (Huang Jian You Ji), which means “the highest norms for the Emperor to have found a regime”.

During the Ming Dynasty, the Emperor changed clothes in this hall before an important ceremony. In the Qing Dynasty, the Emperor held banquets here for his princes, dukes and ministers of ethnic minorities on the Lunar New Year’s Eve and the Lantern Festival.

In the early Qing Dynasty, before the renovation of the three rear halls was completed, 順治皇 (Emperor Shunzhi (1638–1661)) and 康熙黄 (Emperor Kangxi (1654-1722)) lived here and it was named Wei Yu Gong (Palace of Proper Places and Cultivation of Things) and 清宁宫 (Qing Ning Gong), Palace of Peace and Tranquility, respectively during their reigns.

The wedding ceremony of 順治皇 (Emperor Shunzhi) was held here.

In 1789, the Emperor supervised the final stage of examinations to select officials from among scholars from all over the country.

The words “保和” (Bao He) are from the ‘Book of Changes’, meaning “maintaining harmony between all things on earth to have a long period of peace and stability.”

Once we stepped out of 保和殿 (Bao He Dian), we were kind of done exploring the “Outer Court” and could choose among three different routes to take in order to get to the exit. However, we planned to go on all three routes and so will take the western route to the exit, from exit back to where we were using the central route and then the eastern route to the exit. 😉

The western and central route we could take:

The eastern route we could take:

At the bottom of the foot steps from 保和殿 (Bao He Dian) sits this large stone carving (大石雕):

It is the largest stone carving in the palace at 16.75 metres long, 3.07 metres wide and 1.7 metres thick. It weights more than 200 tons, hence its name, “Large Stone Carving (大石雕)”. This stongwas quarried from 房山大石窝 (Dashiwo in Fangshan) in the western suburbs in of Beijing. It was transported to the Forbidden City by sprinkling water on the way in winter to make an ice-road. It was then pulled all the way to the Forbidden City along that ice-road.

It was carved out of a huge natural stone in the early Ming Dynasty, when the three main halls were constructed. In 1761 (the 26th year of the Qianlong reign period of the Qing Dynasty), the old patterns on the stone were all hewn away and new patterns were carved. With beautiful interlocking lotus patterns all around, the huge stone carving has curling waves at the bottom and nine dragons amidst clouds in the middle, as the dragon is an imperial symbol.

This is the end of the Outer Court, where we saw:

  1. 午门 (Wu Men), Meridian Gate
  2. 太和门 (Tai He Men), Gate of Supreme Harmony
  3. 太和殿 (Tai He Dian), Hall of Supreme Harmony
  4. 中和殿 (Zhong He Dian), Hall of Central Harmony
  5. 保和殿 (Bao He Dian), Hall of Preserved Harmony

Our next post will be on the western route where the “养心殿” (Yang Xin Dian (Hall)) and the six West Palaces are.


5 thoughts on “Hu’s going to the Forbidden City (I)!

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  3. Pingback: Hu’s going to the Forbidden City (IV)! | Hu's Married!

  4. Pingback: Flag-lowering ceremony at Tian An Men Square (天安门广场) | Hu's Married!

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