The Forbidden City is nearly 600 years old and was originally planned and constructed from 1407 to 1420. The principles of Feng Shui, the ancient Chinese system of geomancy governed the process. In 1987 the Forbidden City was named a World Heritage Site.
Over 100,00 craftsmen and one million laborers were involved in the construction of the 9,999 rooms and halls. The walls surrounding the complex are eleven feet thick and thirty three feet high and it is surrounded by a 164 foot wide moat. At each corner there are watchtowers for protection from possible invaders. The entire complex covers 250 acres.
Emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties from 1420 to 1911 held court and lived within the walls of the Forbidden City, also known as the Palace Museum. Some treasures remain from the Japanese invasion, and from the Nationalist Chinese taking the most valuable ones to Taiwan in 1949. Those are now on display in the National Museum of Taiwan. The last emperor, Puyi, remained living here for many years after the 1911 Revolution.
If you visit without a guide be sure to rent the audio tape available at the entrance. Not only will it give you much information, it will also muffle the sounds of other visitors so your imagination can return to the days of emperors, empresses, intrigues of the court, concubines and eunuchs.
Entrance is under Mao's large portrait in Tian'anmen Square, south gate, and you exit through the Imperial Gardens right before the north gate. Jingshan Park is directly across the street from the north gate.
Emperors, the Sons of Heaven, rarely left the complex except for their yearly pilgrimage to the Temple of Heaven to pray for good harvests. Ordinary Chinese men were not allowed inside, all male workers were castrated. The palace eunuchs were usually at the center of court intrigue.
In 1998 Puccini's opera, "Turandot", was performed on the grounds of the Forbidden City which was the original setting of the opera. Over 1,000 performers participated and China's famous film director, Zhang Yimou, directed. There were many performances during the week in September, 1998. It was filmed and shown on PBS in the United States.