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The Chinese used to view the Forbidden City as the centre of the universe, and with good reason! While Europe was still stuck in the Middle Ages, Beijing saw a huge palace complex arise with thousands of alcoves, rooms and halls. Not only was the Imperial City forbidden to commoners, it was also invisible, hidden behind walls that were 8 metres thick and 10 metres high.
Ming Emperor Yongle ordered the construction of the Forbidden City in the early 15th century. Legend has it that over 1,000,000 workers were involved in the building process. After the rule of Emperor Yongle, the city was home to a further 23 emperors over a period of 5 centuries. Partly due to the movie The Last Emperor, the first time that a film crew was ever allowed inside, the complex is now famous around the world. There is a large portrait of Mao Zedong above the entrance on Tiananmen Square, separated from the Forbidden City by the Gate of Heavenly Peace.
For those who visit the Forbidden City it seems almost unbelievable that something so enormous could remain hidden for five centuries. The complex is now making up for lost time, and the secret world of emperors, harems and eunuchs is visited by some 40,000 visitors a day. Nonetheless, the grandeur of the Forbidden City remains; since 1987 it has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is maintained accordingly. There’s always some part that is undergoing renovations or construction.
Taking in all the riches of the halls, galleries, squares and palaces will take at least a day. Even for a general impression we recommend at least several hours for your visit. Your patience and stamina will be rewarded. If the names are anything to go by, the pleasure is never-ending: after the entrance you’ll encounter the Hall of Supreme Harmony, then the Gate of Heavenly Purity, the Palace of Earthly Tranquillity, the Hall of Union, and much more besides. Those who brave the entire extent of the city will also see the Imperial Garden which gives access to even more palaces on both sides. This part of the Forbidden City, often overlooked, is a great place for meandering through a maze of galleries, gates and courtyards.