The Forbidden City situated exactly in the heart of Beijing was home to 24 emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. The construction of the grand palace started in the fourth year of Emperor Yongle of the Ming Dynasty (1406) and ended in 1420. In the ancient time, the emperor claimed to be the son of the heaven and therefore their supreme power was conferred upon them from the heaven. Their residence on the earth was built as a replica of the Purple Palace where the God lived in the Heaven. Such divine place was certain forbidden for the ordinary people and it is why the Forbidden City is so called.
The basic layout of the city was built between 1406 and 1420 by Emperor Yong Le who it is said, had one million labourers and craftsmen to build the city. The building standing today mostly dates to around 18th century due to the frequent fires that occurred in the city. A lantern festival combined with a sudden gust from the Gobi dessert usually did the trick, so to did the firework displays that the Chinese invented! Sometimes there were deliberate fires that were ignited by the court Eunuchs and officials who would get rich off the repair bills. The moat around the palace actually came in very useful as a source to extinguish the fires, and it is said that some of the Emperors enjoyed the spectacle of the fires, except the Emperor Jiajing who built a hall in honour of the Fire God. Three fires caused by lightning, including the biggest in 1557, broke out during his reign.
A century later in 1664, the Manchus stormed in and burned the palace to the ground. It was not only the buildings that went up in smoke, so did the rare books and paintings, in fact anything that was flammable. On top of all this bad luck, there have been two major lootings of the city this century. The first by the Japanese forces and the second by Kuomintang, who, on the eve of the communist takeover in 1949, removed thousands of crates of treasures to Taiwan where they are now on display in Taipei’s National Palace Museum, which is considered to be one of the top three museums in the world.
The museum is a real treasures house of Chinese cultural and historical relics, recognized as one of the most important five palaces in the world (the other four are the Palace of Versailles in France, the Buckingham Palace in the UK, the White House in the US and the Kremlin in Russia). The splendid architecture of the Forbidden City represents the essence and culmination of the traditional Chinese architectural accomplishment.
In 1961 the Palace Museum was listed as one of the important historical monuments under the special preservation by the Chinese central government and in 1987, it was nominated as the world cultural heritage by the UNESCO.
The Forbidden City is the best preserved imperial palace in China and the largest ancient palatial structure in the world.
The Forbidden City covers an area of about 72 hectares with a total floor space of approximately 150, 000 square meters. It consists of 90 palaces and courtyards, 980 buildings and 8,704 rooms. To represent the supreme power of the emperor from the God and the place where the he lived being the center of the world, all the gates, palace and other structures of the Forbidden City were arranged on both sides of the south-north central axis.


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