Standing the test of time (600 years is a lot!), lies a forbidden city at the very heart of Beijing, glorifying the ancient Chinese architecture. It is a palace complex (also called the city for its huge size and scale), having high walls and a moat around it, separated from the remaining part of Beijing. Encompassing nearly 8730 rooms and spreading over 180 acres of land, it is the largest wooden palace complex ever built and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Each architectural piece from a small doorknob to the very intricate roof structure has some mystical beliefs and meanings associated with it.
Here are the ten things you didn’t know about Forbidden City, Beijing
1. Forbidden to talk about Forbidden City
Yes, you read it right. Common people could not enter the city. Only the emperors, the royals, and the workers lived there and had memories of the city, but they were prohibited to talk about the city to anyone, thus resulting in the name as the “forbidden”. Life inside the city was a mystery to the non-residents. Once a person entered the city, he could never leave or escape the city for the rest of his life.
2. Birds don’t sit on the roofs of the structures
While visiting any ancient building, you might have mostly encountered the birds sitting on the roof and their droppings on the roof. Well, you won’t see it here in the Forbidden City. When constructing the roofs of the buildings, special attention was given to the roof design to maintain cleanliness. They made roofs in such a way that each roof’s slope was steeper, and they built the spine of the roof wider than the gap between a bird’s claws. Thus, making it impossible for the birds to land on the roof.
3. The analogy of the color (red-yellow color scheme)
In Chinese tradition, colors play a significant role in depicting the beliefs and emotions of the people. In the Forbidden City, red-yellow is the main theme of the entire palace complex. The red color was used in the windows, doors, walls, and pillars while the roofs are predominantly yellow. According to Chinese beliefs, red corresponds to the fire. Besides, it represents joy and good fortune. Yellow is associated with the earth, but precisely, it represents authority and power among the royals in China. It was also called the color of the emperor.
4. The number 9
The number nine in the traditional Chinese culture represents eternity and is mainly associated as a symbol of the power of the emperor. Being the biggest number in numerology, it is considered as the number of heavens. The Forbidden City has a sculpted mural having 9 dragons. The gates of the city have nine spikes in each row and column, forming 9X9 spikes.
5. Roof typologies of Forbidden City
There were over ten various types of roof typologies in the Forbidden City. It can be grouped into three categories: hip roof, gable roof, and pyramidal roof. The type of roof on a particular structure was decided based on the rank of the people of the building. The number of mythical statues of animals on each roof also depicts the social rank of the building.
6. Threshold prevents the evil spirit to enter inside
The design of the threshold (of the doorway) has to do with the ancient belief. The Chinese believe that evil spirits travel through flat surfaces only. To prevent the evil spirits from coming inside, most homes including the Great Imperial Palace have raised thresholds.
7. Artificial hill
The typical Chinese garden has an artificial hill of about 10-meter height, as one of the important elements. The imperial garden was built within the Forbidden City. It has many small structures, pavilions, halls, flower beds, rock gardens, etc., which are a necessary element of the Chinese gardens. This garden has an artificial hill with a cave entrance made by using the mud excavated for making the moat.
8. Palace Vats for the fire protection
The wooden structures in the Forbidden City made the city very prone to hazardous fires. Therefore, Palace Vats were used to fill the rainwater for the use of water in sudden fire outbreaks. In winters when the moat water freezes, vats play a crucial role. To prevent water from freezing, a small fire was lit below each vat to keep the water melted during winters. There were about 308 vats found in the Forbidden City!
9. A 300 ton stone slab was carried to the Forbidden City in 28 days on ice-road
A heavily sculpted, marvelous stairway lies in front of the hall of preserving harmony. It was carved from a single slab of stone weighing 300 tons (about the weight of 250 automobiles!). The slab was carried as a one-piece on 50 km of ice. No vehicle would be large enough to carry that much weight. Therefore, thousands of men and horses dragged the slab over the ice sheet, from the quarry to Beijing, in freezing winters for 28 days.
10. Wood preservation
Nearly all of the buildings are still intact in the Forbidden City. Thanks to the designers and craftsmen of the city. Their unique method of construction is responsible for the structures to stand today. The wood was protected with a seal, and layers of paint and papers, thus ensuring the life of the wooden structures.
“Forbidden City, Beijing: Palace Museum Opening Hours, Entrance Fee”. 2020. Travelchinaguide.Com. https://www.travelchinaguide.com/cityguides/beijing/forbidden.htm.
“The Forbidden City, Beijing — All You Want To Know”. 2020. China Highlights. https://www.chinahighlights.com/beijing/forbidden-city/.