Behind the Walls of the Forbidden City

After being off-limits for centuries, the Forbidden City is one of the most fascinating sites in China today. On a tour of the Extraordinary Wonders of China & the Yangtze River, you’ll explore this magnificent wonder that is more than just a monument or a city, but a veritable world unto itself.

What’s in a Name?

In the very core of Beijing lies a 52-meter-wide (171-foot) moat, which encircles a collection of ancient buildings that house relics and cultural artifacts. It was home to 24 emperors of the Ming and then the Qing dynasties from 1420–1911. Impeccably maintained, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a prime example of China’s architectural accomplishments. Construction began in 1407, and took only fourteen years to complete, an impressive achievement for its time. It is believed that more than a million workers (including 100,000 artisans) were conscripted to complete the task. Stone was quarried from the Fangshan District, then transported in ditches covered with water, which froze during the winter, thereby enabling workers to slide the giant slabs into the city.

You’ll discover firsthand the fantasticfruit of their labors, and learn about the symbolism behind each building. The Chinese emperor was said to be a son of heaven; therefore, his home on earth mirrored the Purple Palace of God. Originally called Zijin Cheng or the Purple Forbidden City — because ordinary citizens were forbidden inside — the Chinese now refer to it as Gugong, or the “Old Palace.”

The Layout

The city is immense, covering 178 acres. There are 90 palaces and courtyards, almost 1,000 buildings, and nearly 9,000 rooms. As you explore the grounds you’ll see how tight security was ensured. The Forbidden City is enclosed by a defensive wall with a circumference of 3,430 meters (more than 2 miles) and a height of 10 meters. For centuries, guards took watch over every corner watchtower.

You’ll enter through Tiananmen, the Gate of Heavenly Peace, then cross a large brick-paved square to get to the main entrance to the palace, called the Meridian Gate. The outer court has three buildings that were part of the grand ceremonies of their day: the Hall of Supreme Harmony where you’ll find the emperor’s Dragon Throne, the Hall of Central Harmony, and the Hall of Preserving Harmony.

The rear of the palace holds its residential area, known as the inner court. This section includes the Palace of Heavenly Purity (where the emperor slept), the Hall of Union and Peace, and the Palace of Earthly Tranquility — which was the emperor’s wedding room. Aside from the outer and inner courts, there are a dozen palaces that were once used for everyday living for the emperor, empress, courtiers, and concubines.

In the Heart of Beijing

Embarking on Vantage’s Extraordinary Wonders of China & the Yangtze River cruise tour puts you right in the heart of Beijing, where China showcases it historic endowment of palaces, gardens, and pavilions. The Forbidden City is unlike any other palace in the world, giving its millions of visitors deep insight into the fascinating imperial history of China.