The Hall of Supreme Harmony ( Taihe' dian ) and Harmony Square. The Hall and Dragon Throne (LongYi') were considered the Administrative and Political Center of the Chinese Empire.
The Symbolical Center of China however is not here , but at the TianTan or Temple of Heaven where the Emperor communicated with the heavenly Powers during extensive Buddhist and Manchu Lamaist Rituals.
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Looking South and out over Harmony Square from the Hall of Supreme Harmony. Across the Square the Gate of Supreme Harmony, behind which our entering point - The Wu Men, or  Gate of the Meridian of the Central Line.
Around the Square are the Official Courts and "meeting rooms" of the Emperor and his vast Administrative and Logistical Staff needed to stay in control of his Empire.
The East Wall of the Forbidden City with in the South- East-corner one of Four Big  Watchtowers. This Wall separated the Inhabitants of the Royal Palace from the busy Life in the Hutong of Beijing's Inner City.
Unfortunatly the , for their relation to the History of the Imperial Palace equally interesting Hutong , are progressively being torn down to be replaced by Modern Highrise and Development for the 2008 Olympics. Fewer and fewer remnants of traditional Hutong buildings and Narrow Streets outside the Forbidden City can be found today. Untill recently a vast area remained in and around Qianmen ( Chien Men ) and the Xuanwu District, but in the year 2005 many of these hutong have also been destroyed.
Impression of  the Forbidden City , Gugong , or
The Palace Museum
Our starting point is the square between Duan Men (in background) and Wu Men, the South gate to the Forbidden City, tourist Arrival and Starting Point of an Official
Forbidden City Tour. We are at the exact South Side of The Imperial Palace (Gugong) , better know as The Forbidden City, in front of Wu Men - the Gate of the Meridian, with its 5 "phoenix" pavilions on top of its High Platform. Many of the Emperors of the Ming and Ching Dynasties had the habit of receiving audience here at dawn. Important ceremonies were held at Wu Men and official announcements made. Down below, insignificant in the giant square, the Court High Officials would await the Emperors appearance on the high platform and hear his Edicts.
Inside the Wu Men , Or Gate of The Meridian. In ancient and Modern Times the Main Gate for Visitors to enter The Imperial Palace or Forbidden City.
After moving the Capital City of China from Nanjing in the South to Beijing in the North during the early Ming Dynasty , an Imperial Palace was designed and taken into use in 1421 AD after a building period of 7 Years. Its conceiver and first Inhabitant was 3rd Ming Emperor Yongle, who lived there for only 3 short years. This "Forbidden City" designed and built under Yongle, along with Jingshan, Beihai Park and the 13 Ming Tombs Site would be the Royal Residence and indeed Center of the World , untill the Fall of the Last Emperor, Qing Emperor Hsuan Tung (Pu Yi) , in 1911 AD.
The Hall of Medium Harmony is located North of and Behind the Hall of Supreme harmony.
During the heights of the Ming and Ching Dynasties it mainly served as a sort of resting room and a place for The Emperor to change and prepare for Ceremonies and other Official Duties to be performed in The Hall of Supreme Harmony. During the later Ching Dynasty it also served other functions.
Looking out from a plateau behind the Hall of Protective Harmony onto QianQing Men or The Gate of Heavenly Purity and its square. Gate to the Inner Court , NeiTing , the Emperor's private  quarters where the Emperor, Empress, Eunuchs and Concubines would Reside. Walk down from here to the courtyard and pass the largest stone ( slab ) sculpture in the Palace depicting a Dragon flying between Clouds. This item is the original thing.
The Gate of Supreme Harmony (TaiHe'Men).
Through this Gate we have moved due North again and onto the Famous Harmony Square. This square is part of the Wai Chao , or outer Court.  Here important mass ceremonies for up to 90.000 important dignitaries from across the Chinese Empire would be held , presided over by The Emperor. Of course it was a great honor to be invited. Of course the most important ceremonial building to visit is The Hall of Supreme Harmony.
Harmony Square. With on the Left TaiHedian or  the Hall of Supreme Harmony.
The TaiHe Dian holds the Dragon Throne where the Emperor traditionally would be crowned in the Great Ceremony of Enthronement,  hold Court and Audience for Important Dignitaries. However, functions of buildings changed through time and through Emperors and Dynasties. Harmony Square and the square inside of Wu Men can hold up to 90.000 people for important ceremonies as for instance the Chinese (lunar) New Year or a Crowning Ceremony. One of the Greatest of Ceremonies was the Imperial Wedding.
The Hall of Supreme Harmony at Harmony Square. Home to the Dragon Throne. This is probably the Most Famous and mythical part of all the Forbidden City. There are however many more legendary places and buildings around this ancient Power Seat. It could take days if not weeks to explore them all.
The Palace of Heavenly Purity was the Emperor's  Residence during the Ming and Early Ching (Qing) Dynasty. As the Emperor was a descendant of The Heavens he was of Heavenly Purity. Furthermore , Benevolence and Righteousness were the "Kingly Way". After the third Reign of the Ching Dynasty the Emperors Residential Palace was moved to the Palace of Mental Cultivation at the Inner Court.
Hill of Accumulated Elegance is one of the Main Structures of the Imperial Garden.
It is ann artificial Hill in the Palace Gardens underneath to the Northern Gate and exit of the Main Tourist Tour. There is a small staircase leading through the inside to the tiny platform atop which is a small Pavilion from which one can overview the Palace Grounds. The Emperors took the Empress and Concubines here for the private celebrations of the Mid-Autumn Festival and on the Ninth of the Ninth Month, aptly dubbed double Ninth Day. Chinese people have a special flavor for numbers which to them are highly symbolic.
Double figures, especialy the 6 and the 9 are very auspicious indeed.
The 10.000 Autumns Pavilion. Emperor Qianlong's Retreat . After his retirement as Emperor  Chien Lung (Qianlong) lived out his remaining days in his beautifully decorated retreat in the Imperial Garden. Due to preservation activities of priceless art, not open to any public.
However , there is a growing number of Qianlongs possesion on exhibit at the Nei Ting.
After passing through the Imperial Garden the North Outer Wall of the Forbidden City is reached.
Coming from the Palace Garden there are actually two Gates, of which Shen Wu Men is the outer Gate. The other is the North Gate of the Imperial Garden (Yu Huan Yuan), named Chun Cheng Men. One of the later Ching Emperors was nearly assasinated inside the Inner Palace Gate while enjoying the Garden.
The Wu Men would be the point for Dignitaries , Aristocrats and Local Officials to enter the "Gugong" or Imperial Palace (which today is know as  Forbidden City). No commoners were allowed.
There are actually 3 Gates in the WuMen. Depending on status visitors would have to use either the Gate on the Left ( Emperor ) or The One on the Right (Everyone else ).
The Middle Gate would stay reserved for the Heavenly Spirits and was opened only on special Ceremonial Days. The Emperor and following would then cross over the Golden Water Stream (Jinshui He) using 5 bridges symbolising the 5 virtues of Confucianism.
Along this Square we find large Ceremonial Buildings as well as the access Gate to the Hall of Martial Victory (Wu Ying Dian) of the Western Outer Route. Opposite stands the Gate to the Hall of Literary Glory of the Eastern Outer Route, where the 3rd Ming Emperor Yongle ( who moved the Capital from Nanjing to Beijing and conceived the Palace and City lay-out ) had his encyclopedia stored, is not open to the Public.
Front and details of the Hall of Supreme Harmony. Tourists are only allowed to look inside at the Dragon Throne.
Plaque at The Empress Quarters during the Ming Dynasty . The Poeticly named Palace of Earthly Tranquility lies North of and directly behind The Palace of heavenly Purity. In between The Hall of Union (Jiao Tai Dian).
The Empress would be the Earthly Balance to The Emperor's Heavenly Nature. She would would produce the Heirs the Dynasty depended on for continuance.
In 1655, during the later Ching Dynasty The Kun Ning Gong was converted and rebuilt in the style of Ching Ancestral Temple in their home powerbase and Capital Shenyang (Liaoning Province). From then on the Kun Ning Gong was one of the most sacred Palaces of the Ching House.
Every Rib of the Four Roofcorners carries a set of Symbolic Animals whereas the entire building has intricate detail. The Imperial Palaces of The Forbidden City have the highest number decorations with 12 mythical animals, signifying the unique status of these buildings. The animals themselves were placed on the roof in attempts to shield against evil spirits.
Hall of Medium Harmony ( Zhonghe' Dian) with in the Background the Hall of Supreme Harmony. The Medium or Balancing Harmony Hall has only a supporting function for the Two Large Main Ceremonial Halls annex Throne Rooms of the Outer Court. Its supportive function has been captured perfectly in the Architecture of the Palaces, placing it exactly in between.
Before proceeding through the Gate of Earthly Traquility the visitor is confronted by 2 impressive Giant Chinese Golden Lions ( Male & Female ) guarding the Gate.
Note the sculptured torches on the staircase. A symbol of masculinity repeated throughout the Gugong , the Tiantan and at ShenYangMen.
The Hall of Protective Harmony ( BaoHe' Dian ) is the 3rd of the Main Central Palaces of the Outer Court. It is located on the central line of the Imperial City, just North of and Behind the Hall of Supreme harmony. It has similar important ceremonial functions and also houses a (Dragon ) Throne. The people received however would be of another rank or file.
Part of the NeiTing or Inner Court are on the East and Westsides the Concubines quarters.  The Emperor and his eunuchs were the Only Men allowed entry there.
Other parts of the NeiTing are the QianGingGong , Palace of Heavenly Purity -  The Emperors residence during the Ming Dynasty.  The KunningGong , Palace of Earthly Tranquility or Empress Quarters and JiaoTaiDian , or Palace of Unity & Peace.
The Latter being the Emperor's bedroom. In all there are 6 eastern- and 6 western palaces plus a multitude of additional studies, storages and plenty of passage-ways.
Entering the Royal Garden through the Gate of Earthly Tranquility (Kunning Men) behind the Kun Ning Gong.
Palaces as a ways of displaying the Great Wealth , Culture, Heritage and History of the Emperor and the Royal House. The oldest vessels could date back over 1300 years and in the Old Days these Vessels alone would have represented enormous Wealth. And there was so much more.

Sadly , the decline of the Ching-house as described in Pu Yi's "From Emperor to Citizen" , the 30 years of Civil War and the later Communist- and Cultural Revolutions have done the Chinese Heritage stored in the Royal Palaces and the Forbidden City no good. Many priceless Cultural Objects from the Palace were either stolen by the Eunuchs, sold by the Household , mis-placed by The Emperor Hsuan Tung himself , destroyed by Fire or the Kuomintang or Communist Armies plundered it. At the height of the Cultural Revolution some even proposed to destroy the entire Forbidden City as it represented the "feudal bourgeois past" a very hated wrong at that time. Luckily wiser communist-party officials managed to interfere and stop the destruction of the Palace Complex by the Revolutionary Guards.
In the End , a lot of Art that had earlier stayed out of the hands of the English and other European invaders in 1900 AD was lost forever.
Caligraphy in Ink or Vermillion , Art , Paintings on Silk, woodcarvings in rose-, sandal- and mahogany-wood. Carvings of the root of the bamboo , of Ivory , of Coral.
Silk-woven Tapistries , the best China work from all over China in special colors, red laquered boxes & vases , clausenet , bronze- , silver- and gold-statues and other art-pieces.
Jades , Pearls , diamonds, rubies , lapis lazuli , woven gold ornaments , wild animal furs, silken Imperial Robes , and other clothings , too much and many to mention.
In ancient Times the Forbidden City  would be an unheard off display of Priceless Art.
Of course the Emperor's Court would also be at the center of Culture , Science and of Learning. The Ching Dynasty even attempted a monopoly on it.
Today Tourists can buy their Souvenirs in one of the Pavillions or flock to rest and get a hot tea and snacks at one of the convenient little fast food restaurants, chinese style. The cheap american " Starbucks " has recently been closed after political objections. Others can stroll around the Garden wondering of a Rich History and enjoying the calm and wonderful chinese garden architecture.
Gugong  Extended Digital Tour
North of the Wall & Gate of the Forbidden City. Looking out on Jingshan Park. Jingshan is also know as the Prospect Hill and has the most excellent view of the Forbidden City. Its a pleasurable place to have a rest after a visit to the Palace. Here you are , actually in the middle of the 13 million+ City of Beijing , but .. sometimes it is hard to realise this!
The Palace Garden, the Main Garden of several inside the Palace, is found at the Northern End of the Forbiddden City. It extends from behind the Emperors' private Quarters to under the Northern Gate , the Gate of Divine Militairy Might and counts over 20 buildings.
Leaving The Forbidden City through the Gate of Divine Might, the Palace Museum has one more stunning surprise. The inspiring view of Jingshan.
Click to Enlarge /Print for on-site use
Part of the Inner Court, with in the Background Jingshan or Coal Hill , the convenient place where Yongzheng, the last Emperor of the Ming Dynasty fled to hang himself from a Tree. During the 1911 Revolution the Gugong came under fire from Republican Troops from this Hill (a shot landed in a Garden Pond, rattling the Court Nerves).
Dragons symbolise the Emperor , his superiority, power and wisdom, as well as Longevity (of reign). There is a wealth of dragons on copper-plating decorating the Halls' Panels.
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This page was last updated: November 4, 2012
Just a bit further to the South, behind Duan Men lies the Gate of Heavenly Peace (Tianan Men) with the Tiananmen Square or -again- Square of Heavenly Peace behind it to the South.
The TiananMen (Men = Gate)  of course is the spot where Chairman Mao declared the People's Republic of China on October 1st ,  1949.
Bibliography of Online Sources on The Forbidden City
Bibliography of Online Sources on The Forbidden City
Bibliography of Online Sources on The Forbidden City
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Orientate yourself on this large Access Square to the Inner Court. From here one can enter the Inner Court's labyrinth through several Gates heading North. This is the main line of a general tourist Tour. However, due to the East and West several other interesting Palace Structures are open to visits. Nearby is the Clocks & Watches Museum at the Hall of Worshipping Ancestors, behind that is the impressive retirement palace of the Qianlong Emperor, the Palace of Longevity and Peaceful Old Age !
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Evil Spirits such as the God of Fire. Lightning causing a Fire posed a real danger to the all wooden buildings of the Palace. For this reason large bronze vats which used to hold water are positioned strategically inside all spaces of the Palace. Regardless, fire destroyed many a palace hall.
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Front porch of the Lodge of the Nourishment of Nature, the assigned Quarters of a Famous Non-Chinese inhabitant.
The Hill of Accumulating Elegance gives a great view of the Palace Grounds. Unfortunatly it's small path is sealed.
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One of Incense Burners at the Entrance to the Imperial Garden. A continous haze of smoke would emit from these when the Palace was in operation.
Tourists study the direction signs inside the Imperial Garden of the Palace Museum (Januari 2000 AD).
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A snowy view of the main access gate to the Inner Court, the Gaye of Heavenly Purity. Inside it lie the Three Central Palaces of the Inner Court. There are many more Palaces at the Inner Court - some 17 are open to the Public.
Tourists assembling for their Tour of the Palace Museum at the Square in Front of the Meridian Gate.
Walls , Moat and Corner Watchtower of the Imperial Palace of Beijing.
A Huge Ceremonial Incense Burner stands at the Entrance of the Emperor's private Garden. When the Palace was still in function bronze Vessels like this would be on display around the Forbidden Cities'
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