Heritages are not only merely built structures. Within them lie many connotations, memories, experiences, smells, hopes, crowds, and stories of people, society and time. Heijō Palace is such a statement of the time.

Brief History

1300 years ago, in Nara, which was formerly known as Heijo, Japan’s first permanent capital was established. The capital was moved from Fujiwara-Kyo to Heijo-Kyo in 710. Heijo-Kyo prospered as Japan’s political, economic, and cultural hub for the ensuing 74 years until the capital was once more relocated to Nagaoka-Kyo in 784. In the heart of Heijo-northern Kyo’s end, Heijo Palace was constructed. The Heij Palace was one of the most significant sites in Japanese and Asian history between 710 and 794. It served as both Japan’s imperial residence and administrative hub, as well as the eastern end of the trade routes that connected China to Japan through the Middle East.

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Heijo Palace_©Viki Pandit

Cultural and Architectural Influence 

The palace demonstrates the centralized government system called the Daijō-Kan or Great Council of State that the Japanese borrowed from China. The city and the imperial complex were modeled after Chang’an, the opulent Chinese capital that is now known as Xi’an in China. The largest and most impressive city during the lengthy Chinese imperial era, Chang’an served as a model for capitals not only in Japan but also in other Asian nations. Chang’an later served as a model in part for other Chinese capital cities, such as Beijing. As a result, Heijo Palace’s design is similar to that of Beijing’s Forbidden City. A high point in Chinese-Japanese relations and exchanges was also reached during Heij-ky when Chinese culture profoundly altered Japanese traditions in the areas of art, literature, religion, and governance.

Chang’an was shaped like a rectangle with a regular grid of streets and protective shrines and temples positioned in each of the four cardinal directions. Heij-ky was comparable. Similar to Chang’an and later Beijing, the Japanese imperial palace was situated along a long axis that ran from the city’s primary north-south thoroughfare through the city center. The palace was a sizable walled area that, like Chinese palace compounds, housed ceremonial and administrative structures, including government ministries. The complex also included the Inner Palace, a walled residential compound housing the emperor and his consorts as well as official and ceremonial buildings. The palace buildings were to the north of the Suzaku Gate, where the thoroughfare came to an end.

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A representation of the original Heijo Palace_© Viki Pandit

The Heij compound was short-lived because the palace buildings were either relocated there after the capital was moved to Heian or they were destroyed by fires and other natural disasters and vanished. Almost no traces of the site, which was converted to agricultural use, could be found today. Large-scale reconstruction was based on excavations that began in the 2000s and large-scale excavations that began in the 1970s.

In 1998, a number of the nearby structures, including the palace’s excavated remnants, were included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Suzaku Gate 

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Suzaku Gate, the main gate of the palace compound_© Forrest Anderson

In 1998, the public could visit the East Palace Garden and Suzaku Gate after they had been rebuilt. The name of the Suzaku Gate, the palace’s main entrance, comes from a Chinese legend about a bird that was considered to be the south’s protector. The gate, the largest of the 12 palace gates, served as the southern and main entrance of the palace according to Chinese tradition. Again in Chinese style, the second-most significant avenue extended east-west in front of it along the main avenue. It is 25 m long, 10 m wide, and 22 m tall.

Although the exact appearance of the original gate is unknown, the designers of the replica gate were able to make an educated guess based on literary sources and gates constructed in other parts of Asia.

The Great Hall of State (The Daigokuden)

The Daigokuden, the most notable structure in Heijo-Kyo, was recreated in 2010. Important national ceremonies like the emperor’s coronation were held at the Daigokuden. They were recreated at a scale of 44 m wide, 20 m long, and 27 m high. The Daigokuden’s dimensions and appearance were established by a podium that was found during excavation research and a few references and temple architectures from that era since there were no existing plans or paintings of the structure Daigokuden, the largest and most significant structure in the Heijo Palace, has been faithful.

The reconstructed main audience hall, Daigokuden_© Forrest Anderson

The Takamikura, or emperor’s throne, which stood in the middle of the audience hall represented imperial authority. Again adopting a custom from the Chinese imperial court, the emperor sat there during his inauguration and the celebrations on New Year’s Day as noblemen lined up to pay their respects in the inner court to the south of the hall.

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Takamikura Throne inside the Heijo Palace Audience Hall_©Viki Pandit

Nara Palace Site Historical Park

A historical park has been created at the Palace Site based on ongoing archaeological excavations and research. The park has elements like rebuilt building platforms and Japanese boxwood trees planted where structural columns once stood that are meant to help visitors imagine how the area looked at the time.

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A wooden model showing the construction methods used to create the columned buildings at the site_© Forrest Anderson
Palace Site Historical Park’s masterplan_©.kkr.mlit.go.jp

The rich natural setting of Nara Palace Site Historical Park, which includes ponds, wetlands, grassy fields, and woods, is another alluring feature of the site. A variety of insects and birds are available for visitors to observe.

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  2. www.japan-guide.com. (n.d.). 1300th Anniversary of Nara Capital. [online] Available at: https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e4116.html [Accessed 30 Oct. 2022].
  3. Wikipedia Contributors (2022). Heijō Palace. [online] Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heij%C5%8D_Palace [Accessed 30 Oct. 2022].
  4. LIVE JAPAN. (n.d.). Heijo Palace Site (Nara, Ikoma, Tenri|Cultural Heritage Sites). [online] Available at: https://livejapan.com/en/in-kansai/in-pref-nara/in-nara_ikoma_tenri/spot-lj0010172/ [Accessed 30 Oct. 2022].
  5. www.kanpai-japan.com. (n.d.). Heijo – The Former Imperial Palace in Nara. [online] Available at: https://www.kanpai-japan.com/nara/heijo [Accessed 30 Oct. 2022].

Toukir is an undergraduate student of architecture at Khulna University, Bangladesh. He is fascinated to explore the relationship of human psychology and build environment in this age. He dreams to be impactful to the people, to the planet with sensible and responsible architectural practice.