7 Interesting Facts about the Forbidden City in Beijing

The Forbidden City in Bejing is one of China’s most famous landmarks and one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. Housing ancient cultural relics as well as over 9,000 rooms, this site was once home to emperors but is now an incredible and one of the most visited museums in the world. Are you planning a visit to the world’s largest ancient palatial complex? If so, brush up on your knowledge with these interesting facts about the Forbidden City in Beijing.

7 Interesting Facts about the Forbidden City in Beijing

1. The Forbidden City is the world’s largest imperial palace

The Forbidden City is an imperial palace in China. Located in the capital city of Beijing, the Forbidden City is the largest and most well-preserved heritage site in China as well as the largest ancient palatial structure in the world. It is home to the world’s largest collection of well-preserved medieval wooden structures. In 1987, UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site.

facts forbidden city beijing

2. It took 14 years to build the Forbidden City

Workers began construction of the site in 1406, under the reign of Emperor Yongle, third of the Ming Dynasty. It took 14 years to complete and over 1 million labourers worked on the site. Since its completion in 1420, some 24 emperors of the Ming (1368–1644) and the Qing (1644–1911) dynasties have called the complex home. Fourteen Ming emperors held power in the Forbidden City until the Manchus took possession in 1644. Then, ten Qing emperors ruled from the Forbidden City until the abdication of the last emperor in 1912. Puyi (1906–67), the last emperor of imperial China ruled from here until he was expelled in 1924. He was the last occupant of the Forbidden City.

interesting facts about the forbidden city in beijing china

3. It is one of the world’s most visited museums

A year after the last emperor left, in 1925, the complex was turned into the Palace Museum and today, it is one of the most important cultural heritage sites and the most visited museum in the People’s Republic of China. In 2019, the Palace Museum in Beijing had approximately 19.3 million visitors. The museum houses the greatest collection of Chinese historical artefacts in the world and they span thousands of years. You can see ancient porcelain and jade, paintings, calligraphy, embroidery and other relics of historic significance for China and the world.

4. No one could enter or leave without the emperor’s permission

The ‘Forbidden City’ is the common English translation of the Chinese name ‘Zijin Cheng‘. However, the literal translation is The Purple Forbidden City. ‘Zi’ means purple. ‘Jin’ means forbidden. ‘Cheng’ means a city. The complex is called the Forbidden City because no one could enter or leave the walled city without the emperor’s permission. Purple refers to the North Star, which, in ancient China, was called the Ziwei Star. In traditional Chinese astrology, the Ziwei Star is the heavenly abode of the Celestial Emperor. Also, in Chinese legend, the King of Heaven, the Jade Emperor (the Supreme Deity of Taoism), lived in a Purple Palace.

5. There are more than 9,000 rooms

The Forbidden City spans 720,000 sq m (7,750,000 sq ft). The complex is comprised of more than 90 palace quarters, including 980 buildings and, at last count, 9,371 rooms. There is a common myth stemming from folklore that says the Forbidden Palace has 9,999.5 rooms. This is because the Jade Emperor had 10,000 rooms in his Purple Palace and the mortal emperors were not permitted to have more rooms in their palace than there were in their immortal father’s palace.

6. Imperial cats guard the grounds

Over 150 cats live on the grounds of the palace. Many concubines of the Ming and Qing dynasties kept cats. Some of the cats living there today are descendants of cats that the imperial rulers owned. The cats help keep the palace clean and keep the mice away in exchange for food and shelter.

7. The gates feature symbolic doornails

In ancient China, the number “9”, being the largest singular number, symbolised supremacy and people used it to highlight the nobility and sanctity of the imperial position. There are four gates in the Forbidden City: the Donghua Gate, Meridian Gate, Shenwu Gate and Xihua Gate. Each gate has 81 doornails, in nine rows and nine columns except for the Donghua Gate, which is missing one row. It has 72 doornails in eight horizontal and nine vertical rows. Nobody knows for sure why the Donghua Gate is missing a row, but many people think it is to do with the Chinese Yin-Yang theory or the five-element theory. It is also suggested that because the crown prince entered and exited by this gate that the doornails were reduced as the crown prince is inferior to the emperor who used the other gates.

By Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas, CC BY-SA 3.0
Melanie May

Melanie is an intrepid solo traveller, endlessly curious about people, places and food. She is a fan of slow travel and loves exploring the world by mouth, discovering a culture through its food. Having backpacked her way around the world she turned her wanderlust into a career and is now a full-time travel writer.

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