(1) The Forbidden City
Inscribed as a cultural property on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1987, now also called the Palace Museum, the Forbidden City is the former home to the Ming and Qing emperors.
The Forbidden City is surrounded by 10-meter-high walls and a 52-meter- wide moat. Measuring 961 meters from north to south and 753 meters from east to west, it covers an area of 720,000 square meters. The largest and best in China today, its more thin 9.000 rooms cover some 150,000 square meters. There are four entrance gates: the Meridian Gate to the south, the Gate of Spiritual Valor to the north, the Eastern Flowery Gate to the east and the Western Flowery Gate to the west. Once inside, visitors will see a succession of halls and palaces spreading out on either side of an invisible central axis. It is a magnificent sight, the buildings’ glowing yellow roofs against vermilion walls, not to mention their painted ridges and carved beams, all contributing to the sumptuous effect.
A visit to the Palace Museum begins at the Meridian Gate in the south. Passage through the central opening was formerly restricted to the emperor whereas the two side openings served civil and military officials as well as imperial clansmen. An excursion to offer sacrifices at the Temple of Heaven or Altar of Earth was heralded at the gate by bells, which to the Imperial Ancestral Temple was announced by drums.
The Front Palace is reached through the Gate of Supreme Harmony. There a sea of flagstones covering more than 30,000 square meters is bounded on three sides by grand halls. Directly in front stands the Hall of Supreme Harmony. North of that are the Hall of Central Harmony and the Hall of Preserving Harmony. These “Three Great Halls” dominate the Front Palace.
Only the most important ceremonies were held in the Hall of Supreme Harmony — the enthronement of an emperor; celebration of the first day of the New Year; winter solstice; Spring Festival (from the first to the fifteenth of the first lunar month); the emperor’s birthday; announcement of successful candidates in the imperial examinations and proclamation of imperial directives.
The imposing “Three Great Halls” are built up on broad terraces and decorated with carved pillars. The ornamental Dragon’s head at the base of each pillar serves the practical purpose of water drainage. If you visit the palace on a rainy day you will witness the magnificent sight of 1,142 dragons on the three terraces simultaneously spurting rain water from their mouths.
Three flights of steps, the middle of which is decorated with slabs of exquisitely carved marble, connect the three terraces along the central Imperial Way. To the north of the Hall of Preserving Harmony is the most spectacular of terraces simultaneously spurting rain water from their mouths.
Three flights of steps, the middle of which is decorated with slabs of exquisitely carved marble, connect the three terraces along the central Imperial Way. To the north of the Hall of Preserving Harmony is the most spectacular of all. Large marble panels are framed with an order of flowers and ocean waves. In the center, a sea of curled clouds set off groups of nine (the imperial number) coiling dragons (the emperor’s personal symbol) rising from their midst. These stone carvings are considered to be some of the finest in China.
Construction of the Hall of Supreme Harmony was initiated in 1420 under Emperor Yongle of the Ming Dynasty. Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty rebuilt the extant structure in 169$, Thirty-five meters high, it is the tallest building in the entire palace complex. The golden lacquer ware throne, set between two golden pillars both decorated with dragons, sits directly at its heart. Above a mirrored sphere hangs from an umbrella-shaped niche tilled with yet more golden dragons.
On veranda is a display of musical instruments: bronze bells and a set of jade musical stones. There are mouth organs, bamboo flutes and a qin, a zither- like instrument without bridges. Whenever the emperor approached his throne, the bronze bells and the musical stones were sounded, creating in a wonderfully harmonious clatter that was known as shao music. Outside on the terrace, incense was burned in bronze tripods (ding) and cranes. Civil and military officials would kneel on the platform inside by rank. Though fragrant smoke no longer rises from the Hall of Supreme Harmony, everything remains as if the “Son of Heaven” had just departed.
The next building north is the Hall of the Central Harmony constructed under Emperor Yongle in 1420. Here the emperor would rest before attending to business in the Hall of Supreme Harmony. Each year, the day before going to offer sacrifices, he would come here to review the text of the sacrificial prayers. Ceremonies for receiving tribute, memorials to the throne and congratulatory documents were also rehearsed here. On veranda is a display of musical instruments: bronze bells and a set of jade musical stones.