Forbidden City Interactive Map

The Meridian Gate, located at the front of the Forbidden City, would open only for events related to national affairs. Normally, the emperor and the residents of the Inner Court would enter and exit the Forbidden City through the Gate of Divine Prowess at the back. When reporting to court, the ministers would most often enter the palace through the East and West Prosperity Gates, whereas imperial relatives entered the palace mostly through the West Prosperity Gate or the Gate of Divine Prowess.

MERIDIAN GATE

The Meridian Gate, located at the front of the Forbidden City, would open only for events related to national affairs. Normally, the emperor and the residents of the Inner Court would enter and exit the Forbidden City through the Gate of Divine Prowess at the back. When reporting to court, the ministers would most often enter the palace through the East and West Prosperity Gates, whereas imperial relatives entered the palace mostly through the West Prosperity Gate or the Gate of Divine Prowess.

RIVER OF GOLDEN WATER

The River of Golden Water is located in the first courtyard of The Forbidden City. The water for the river flows from the west, the direction associated with gold. From overhead it looks like a bow, or a jade belt. There are five stone and marble bridges over the river. The middle bridge was used almost exclusively for the emperor, the imperial family used the two flanking bridges, and the outer two bridges were for court officials. Having a man-made river inside the palace was also useful for fighting fires.

GATE OF SUPREME HARMONY

The 10,000 square meter courtyard in front of the Gate of Supreme Harmony is made entirely of paved brick—no trees or vegetation was permitted to grow here; since the Emperor was considered the ruler of earth, no wood elements could trump his lofty position. The bricks were specially made to create a pleasing sound when walked upon. It was here, during the Ming Dynasty, that emperor held morning court and imperial edicts were issued.

Hall of Supreme Harmony

The Hall of Supreme Harmony is the largest hall in the Forbidden City. From here the most important events in the empire were marked: the coronation of the emperor, the marriage to the empress, imperial birthday celebrations, lunar year ceremonies, and the most important imperial proclamations. The emperor was considered the “Son of Heaven” and it was here that “heaven and earth” were thought to meet. During these ceremonies civil and military officials would line up in the courtyard according to their duty and rank, with 72 raised bronze markers placed on the ground to indicate where each ranking should stand or kneel.

Hall of Preserving Harmony

The function of the Hall of Preserving Harmony changed over the centuries. During the Ming, it was used for ceremonial purposes related to the imperial family; while during the Qing, it was used as both a banquet hall as well as the examination for for the top candidates in the all-important Imperial Examination – presided over by none other than the Emperor himself!

Gate of Heavenly Purity

The Gate of Heavenly Purity marks the border between the Outer and Inner Courts. There is a marked difference between the air of regal authority of the Outer Court and the more domestic concerns of the Inner Court. The designs of both courts are meant to mirror each other; the three main palaces of the Inner Court mirror the three main palaces of the Outer Court on a smaller scale. While the Inner Court was meant to be the residence of the emperor, it gradually took on more official functions, as emperors got tired of and retreated from the ceremony of the Outer Court.

Hall of Heavenly Purity

The Hall of Heavenly Purity was the residence of the emperor during the Ming and early Qing dynasties. Here funerals and holidays celebrations took place. In 1514, the original building burnt down due to a mishap with fireworks. One night in 1542 more than a dozen palace women invaded the bedroom, tied down, and attempted to strangle the Emperor Jiajing, who was known for being sadistic and cruel. They failed, were sentenced to “death by a thousand cuts,” and the Emperor Jiajing moved to the Summer Palace outside the Forbidden City. During the Qing dynasty, the emperor’s residence moved to the Hall of Mental Cultivation and the Hall of Heavenly Purity became a site for lavish banquets.

Palace of Earthly Tranquility

The three main halls of the Inner Court mirror the three halls of the Outer Court. The first and most important hall, the hall of Heavenly Purity, was reserved for the emperor. The middle hall, the Hall of Union, symbolized the marriage of the emperor and empress and initially served as the empress’s throne room. This third hall, the Palace of Earthly Tranquility was the residence for the Ming dynasty empresses. It was later turned into a nuptial chamber and site of Manchu rituals during the Qing dynasty.

Imperial Garden

For the emperor the Imperial Garden was a place to retreat from the pomp of the Outer Court and his official duties. The Imperial Garden in the Forbidden City is small, but it contrasts sharply with the rest of the palace’s design. After a busy day, the emperor might retreat to this garden for a leisurely stroll on the intricately designed garden paths. The garden was also used to celebrate holidays and for religious ceremonies and there are many temples and pavilions located throughout it.

Gate of Divine Prowess

The Gate of Divine Prowess is located at the north end of the Forbidden City, 961 meters away from the Meridian Gate. Though it was second in prominence to the Meridian Gate, it was the most popular for everyday use. The emperors would pass through it when attending to any activity that was not official business. One day Emperor Jiaqing was returning to the palace from Yuanmingyuan (the Old Summer Palace). After entering through the Gate of Divine Prowess a dissident named Chen De jumped out of nowhere and attempted to stab him. The assassination attempt failed, but Jiaqing was horribly shaken. On November 5, 1924, Puyi and his wife Wangrong, the last emperor and empress of the Qing dynasty, were forced to leave the palace by the order of a powerful warlord. At 4:00 p.m. they excited through the Gate of Divine Prowess by automobile.

Jing Mountain

Jing Mountain is an artificial hill that is 45.7 meters tall. In the early years of the Ming dynasty, when the Forbidden City was being built, Jing Mountain was created from the unwanted earth and stones left behind by the dismantlement of Yuan dynasty palace buildings and from the earth that was dug up for the creation of the palace moat.

During the Ming dynasty, Jing Mountain was called Zhen Mountain. On the annual Double Ninth Festival, the emperor, accompanied by the empress and imperial consorts, would ascend to the mountain’s summit to enjoy a banquet. It was later, during the Qing dynasty, that the mountain was named Jing Mountain, which means Prospect Mountain.

During the peasant’s uprising at the end of the Ming dynasty, the rebel leader Li Zicheng led an army into Beijing. Emperor Chongzhen fled the Forbidden City in a panic through the Gate of Divine Prowess. It was by a tree on the eastern slope of Jing Mountain that he wrote his death note and committed suicide. He was 33 years old. The year was 1644. The Manchu army soon defeated Li Zicheng, and the Forbidden City welcomed the last line of imperial rulers – the Qing Dynasty.

Jing Mountain became a public park in 1928 and covers an area of about 23 hectares.

Palace of Tranquil Longevity

The Palace of Tranquil Longevity was constructed after Emperor Qianlong returned from his southern inspection tour. The palace contains its own central axis and resembles a miniature Forbidden City. Thus, it was sometimes called “the forbidden city within the Forbidden City.” There is an exceptionally beautiful garden here that was built by Emperor Qianlong for his retirement, at the pinnacle of his reign.

Well of Consort Zhen

Consort Zhen was the favorite concubine of Emperor Guangxu. At first, the Empress Dowager Cixi adored her, but she was later placed under house arrest near the Palace of Universal Happiness, because she supported Emperor Guangxu in his attempt to implement the Hundred Days Reform. During the invasion of the Eight-Nation Alliance in 1900, the Qing court fled from the Forbidden City to Xi’an. Before they left, Consort Zhen was forced to commit suicide by jumping into this well.

Hall of Mental Cultivation

As the name implies, the Hall of Mental Cultivation was a place where the emperors could rest. Those that fancied themselves as artists and scholars would relax by writing poetry or practicing calligraphy. In the early 1700s, Emperor Yongzheng moved the emperor’s living quarters to here from the Hall of Heavenly Purity. To the north lay the apartments of the empress dowagers, concubines, and other royal women.

Palace of Compassion and Tranquility

The empress dowager palace complex (the district of the Palace of Compassion and Tranquility) is located on the west side of the Forbidden City. According to the theory of the five elements, the west side is associated with the element of gold and so it is particularly suitable for spending one’s golden years of retirement. The empress dowager lived here with many of the emperor’s imperial consorts, the former emperor’s widows, and the older palace maids. Thus, this area was also called the “Widows’ District.” This area also contains many family temple shrines for residents to practice Buddhism.