Originally the imperial residence where no one could enter or leave without the emperor’s permission, from 1420 it was home to 24 emperors from the Ming and Qing dynasties. In 1912, on the forced abdication of Pu Yi – a boy of six – the Inner Court remained a kind of living prison for the child emperor. Even when he was evicted in 1924 it retained a great deal of its mystique, and it wasn’t until far more recently that travel and tourism from the west was established. The vast palace complex was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, the same year that saw the release of The Last Emperor, the award-winning film directed by Bertolucci, the first foreign director the Chinese authorities to allow to film inside the Forbidden City
To enter the Forbidden City today is step back in time, well except for the ATM’s
This is the largest palace complex in the world, sprawls for 720,000 square metres, and comprises a thousand buildings with around 9,000 rooms and halls scattered between concourses and courtyards all enclosed by a huge wall and a vast moat six metres deep 52m wide .
Through Meridian Gate, you enter an enormous courtyard, and cross the Golden Stream – shaped to resemble a Tartar bow and spanned by five marble bridges – on your way to the magnificent Gate of Supreme Harmony . This courtyard could hold an imperial audience of 100,000 people.
Among the pavilions of the Outer Court, where audiences were granted and great feasts, ceremonies and banquets held, are the magnificent Hall of Central Harmony, Hall of Preserved Harmony and, the most elegant of all, the Hall of Supreme Harmony, also known as the Golden Throne Room. Visitors can now wander freely around the Inner Court, the area reserved for the emperor, his wives and concubines, through superb apartments with names as evocative as the Hall of Heavenly Purity.
My favourite parts were the Imperial Garden
At the northern end of the Forbidden City, a classical Chinese garden with 7000 sq metres of fine landscaping, including rockeries, walkways, pavilions and ancient cypresses.
The Hall of Mental Cultivation is a highlight, while the Palace of Gathered Elegance contains some interesting photos of the last emperor child ruler Pu Yi.
Allow yourself the best part of a day for exploration
There are Tour Guides that hang around the entrance, all the ones we heard had limited English, often they sounded like they had just memorised a book but couldn’t answer questions, they charge 250¥ . The automatically activated audio tours are cheaper (¥40; more than 40 languages) are more reliable and you can go at your own pace. Restaurants, a cafe, toilets and even ATMs can be found within the palace grounds.
The entrance fee in 2014
April 1st – October 31st : 60¥
November 1st – March 31st : 40¥
To enter the Treasure Gallery (where the Stone Drum Gallery is also located) and to the Hall of Clocks you need to pay additional 10¥