"Seat of supreme power for over five centuries (1416-1911), the Forbidden City in Beijing, with its landscaped gardens and many buildings (whose nearly 10,000 rooms contain furniture and works of art), constitutes a priceless testimony to Chinese civilization during the Ming and Qing dynasties." was UNESCO's comment on the Imperial Palace of the Ming and Qing Dynasties, when the element was listed as a world cultural heritage in 1987.
As the royal residence of emperors during the Ming and Qing dynasties, the Imperial Palace is the earthly counterpart of the Ziwei Enclosure - the divine residence of the Celestial Emperor in accordance with traditional Chinese astrology. This palace was considered the center of the world and was called the Forbidden City, which is actually located just in the center of Beijing.
The Forbidden City was constructed in 1406 and has a rectangular area of approximately720,000 square meters; measuring a length of 961 meters from north to south and a width of 753 meters from west to east. Consisting of 8,728 rooms of various sizes, this city is surrounded by 12-meter high wall and a 52-meter wide moat; watch towers were built at the four corners of the wall, which serves as the city’s defense facility. Gates were built on the four sides of the wall, namely, the Meridian Gate (south wall), the Gate of Divine Might (north wall), the East Glorious Gate, and the West Glorious Gate. The main buildings are positioned on the central north–south axis; the rest of the structures were arranged in a symmetrical pattern and placed on the east and west side of the central axis - generally forming two parts: the Outer Court and the Inner Court.
The main structures of the Forbidden City are located in the “Outer Court", which include the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the Hall of Central Harmony, and the Hall of Preserving Harmony; these are the three major halls of the Outer Court. The Hall of Supreme Harmony is the main hall among the three and is the symbol of imperial power. This primary hall was decorated magnificently and was often a venue for major national celebrations during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. The Forbidden City, also called the Hall of Golden Chimes, represents the highest level of the ancient structures in standard and grade in China. The Hall of Central Harmony was used by the Emperor to prepare and have a rest before holding court. The Hall of Preserving Harmony was the site for the final stage of the Imperial Examination and meeting guests from vassal states.
The “Inner Court” was where the Emperor, Empress and concubines lived and worked. The Palace of Heavenly Purity, the Palace of Earthly Tranquility, and the Hall of Union are the three halls of the Inner Court. The Palace of Heavenly Court was used as a place for Emperors, during the Ming and Qing dynasties, to live and work. However, during the reign of Emperor Yongzheng of the Qing dynasty, the Emperor’s living quarters was transferred to the smaller Hall of Mental Cultivation near the west side of the Palace of Heavenly. The Palace of Earthly Tranquility was the residence of the Empress; and the Hall of Union was a place for the Empress to hold different ceremonies. The six palaces in the west side and the other six palaces in the east side of the three halls are the residences of the concubines. The royal garden, also called, the Imperial Garden, is located between the Inner Court and the Gate of Divine Might.
The Forbidden City has the largest and most intact ancient wooden structure architecture complex existing in the world. The golden tiles that cover the palace architecture and the red palace walls fully reflect the ancient feudal system in China. For 500 years, the Forbidden City witnessed the success and failures of the 24 emperors that ruled the Imperial Palace; from Zhu Di, the third emperor of the Ming Dynasty who ruled in 1421, to Puyi, the last Emperor of the Qing Dynasty who was expelled from the palace in 1924. Since then, the name, Forbidden City has slowly been forgotten in time; and more and more people now call this place, "the Imperial Palace."