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Self-guided Forbidden City Tours

Top 10 Spots in Forbidden City

The Forbidden City is full of historical sites and relics. Among them, we recommend ten must-sees which are typical and representative in the aspects of history, culture and architecture.

Taihe Hall

The first one is the Dragon Throne in Taihe Hall. According to the style of its pattern and painting, the archaeological experts determine that the throne was from the Ming Dynasty and continuously used by the emperors of the Qing Dynasty. In 1916, when warlord Yuan Shikai overthrew the Qing Dynasty and proclaimed himself the emperor in Taihe Hall, he replaced the Dragon Throne with a lower one because he was short and stout. But he was on that throne only for 83 days. After the liberation of China and the foundation of the Palace Museum, the archaeologists started to look for the Dragon Throne. Mr. Zhu Jiajin, a famous antique expert, found it in a warehouse according to a picture taken in 1900. Then after 934 working days' repair, the Dragon Throne has been put back where it belongs. The throne is 172.5 cm high and 158.5 cm wide, made by the valuable gold-rimmed nanmu (a kind of rare and hard wood), carved with 13 dragons and painted with gold. It is not only a relic, but also an elegant work of art.

There are 308 urns in the Forbidden City and the main function was to store water and prevent fires. The iron ones were made in the Ming Dynasty, the copper ones were made in the Qing Dynasty and the gilded ones were made in Qianlong years. In winter, the eunuchs would wrap up the urns with cotton-padded coverings, and start fires in the stone pedestals to keep the water from frozen. Now the gilded urns are covered with scratches as the gold were scraped by the Eight-Power Allied Forces when they invaded Beijing.

Yunlong Stone Carving

Behind Baohe Hall, there are 3 layers of steps. In the middle of the bottom ones, you will find the biggest stone carving in China, Yunlong Stone Carving. The whole stone is 16.57 meters long, 3.07 meters wide, 1.7 meters thick, and weighs 250 tons. The stone was transferred from Shiwo Village which is 50 km from Beijing. In the years that had no truck or hoist, it seemed impossible to transfer this huge stone. But the clever workers used the cold weather of Beijing winter, dug a well every mile and spilled the water all over the road to create an ice road. Finally, after 28 days, the stone arrived at the Forbidden City. The pattern we see now with nigh dragons and clouds was sculptured in Qianlong years after erasing the old ones from the Ming Dynasty.

Under the royal road from Qianqing Gate to Qianqing Palace, there are three tiger caves which are 2 meters high and 1 meter wide. The eunuchs use the paths to go around the palace because they are not allowed to walk on the royal road. Emperor Tianqi of the Ming Dynasty loved to play hide-and-seek in the caves when he was young.

Jiaotai Hall

Ancient China was a patriarchal society. And in Chinese myths, dragon represents male and phoenix represents female. So in Forbidden City, you will find many vignettes with dragon above phoenix to show the power and status of the emperor. But in Jiaotai Hall, the patterns are reverse. They were changed this way when Cixi controlled the emperor and the state affairs. It fully showed Cixi's desire of power.

The winter in Beijing is very cold, especially when people did not have air-conditions in the old times. In Forbidden City, the servants would heat the floor to warm the rooms for the royal family. Outside the bedrooms in Qianqing Palace and Kunning Palace, you can find the entrances of the fire tunnels which are now covered by slabstones. The design of the fire tunnels is practical and reasonable. When setting a fire at the entrance, the hot air could smoothly circulate inside the tunnel and the smoke would diffuse from the special holes.

Screen Wall

In Chinese history, there was only one female monarch, Empress Wu Zetian from the Tang Dynasty. But there was another woman who had reached the apex of power and ruled China for 48 years, that is Empress Dowager Cixi. After Emperor Xianfeng died in 1861, Emperor Tongzhi acceded to the throne and he was only 6. Cixi successfully wrested the political power no long after and "reign behind the curtain" ever since. The East Chamber of Yangxin Hall was where she met the ministers and gave orders, with a curtain and the little emperor in between.

Screen Wall is a very important part of Chinese ancient buildings. The ancients believed that evil would invade the houses at night. To prevent evil from coming and keep the better Fengshui, people would build a screen wall inside the yard against the gate. It can also keep out the wind, block the sight and decorate the house. In Xiqing Gate, there is the Nine-Dragon Screen, the most beautiful screen wall in China. It is 29.4 meters wide, 3.5 meters tall and 0.45 meter thick. Built in 1772 and combined by 270 colored glazed tiles, the screen has nine dragons with different colors and gestures rising from the blue sky and green water. The craft of the workers were exquisite and the dragons are lifelike and majestic.

A Turret

Before reaching the Treasure Gallery, you need to go through a long and narrow alley with tall and imposing palace walls on both sides. This is an important scene in historical movies to show the depressive and despairing life in the palace. One emperor with many concubines, many princes and many ministers, apparent political relationships and hidden infightings made the life here difficult and complicated. To protect oneself, to be above others, to choose the right side, every move and step should be carefully thought and taken. And always, some people laughed and are memorized, while others died and are forgotten.

On each of the four corners of the Forbidden City Wall, there is a turret which was first built in 1420. Together with the city wall, gates and the moat, they constitute the outer edge of the defense system of the palace. Despite the military effect, the turret is also a distinctively designed and pretty shaped building. To maximize the indoor space, the workers only used 9 beams and 18 columns to support the whole pavilion. When it is night, it’s reflection in the moat is amazingly beautiful.

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