Raised some 100 feet above the central great courtyard, the Forbidden City’s grandest structure houses only the Dragon Throne, ceremonial seat of the Ming and Qing emperors’ imperial power for five centuries.

Go inside China's Forbidden City—domain of the emperor and his court for nearly 500 years

Access to this vast complex of grand palaces, abundant gardens, and sacred pavilions was off limits to most of imperial China's people, who could only imagine the grandeur beyond the gates.

Hall of Supreme Harmony

Raised some 100 feet above the central great courtyard, the Forbidden City’s grandest structure houses only the Dragon Throne, ceremonial seat of the Ming and Qing emperors’ imperial power for five centuries.
Age Fotostock

In the heart of modern Beijing is the world’s largest palace complex, big enough to hold 50 Buckingham Palaces and covering more than 7.75 million square feet. Known as the Forbidden City, it served as the symbolic and political center of imperial China between 1420 and 1912. Its forbidding moniker reflected how most subjects of the realm were never allowed to enter its walls.

The entire complex is filled with palaces, gardens, courtyards, and living quarters. It was built by the Yongle emperor, the third Ming ruler (r. 1403-1424). He declared himself emperor and consolidated his power in Beijing, moving the capital some 620 miles from Nanjing in 1403. Sources say it took 100,000 artisans and a million forced laborers to build the Beijing complex between 1406 and 1420, on the site where Kublai Khan had once built his famous palace.

The Forbidden City’s name in Chinese, Zijincheng, literally means “purple forbidden city.” The color purple is considered auspicious in Chinese culture and symbolizes divinity and immortality, as well as the North Star. The Forbidden City would be the home and seat of power for 24 rulers—14 from the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) and 10 from the Qing (1644-1911). When the Manchu Qing emperors overthrew the Ming, they added new structures and gardens, but the complex’s importance remained undiminished.

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