Layout of the Forbidden City
The Legend of the
The Great Wall of China had a vital link to the Forbidden City. The Great Wall was constructed with watchtowers all along its structure. It was from these watchtowers that smoke signals could be sent as a way of communicating with the Forbidden City.
The Forbidden City can be divided into two parts.
The southern section, the 'Outer Court', consists of five halls used for ceremonial purposes and other official business. These include the magnificant Hall of Supreme Harmony. The northern section, the 'Inner Court', was where the emperor worked and lived with his family, eunuchs and maid-servants.
The Outer Court consists of large structures and enormous spaces. The first part of the Inner Court is a series of three halls that are a smaller mirror of the main three in the Outer Court, and then a grander version of the ancient hutong style of alleys and courtyards that serve as living quarters.
Between the Outer and Inner Courts, and between the courtyards of the Inner Court, are many high-walled alleys. The visitor can easily feel that they are in a maze! Some of the alleys are very long.
Because golden yellow had long been a symbol of the royal family and it is a dominant color in the Forbidden City. Roofs are constructed with yellow glazed tiles; decorations in the palace are often yellow; even the paving bricks on the floors of the halls are made a bit yellow by a special process.
In the ancient chinese theory of the Five Elements, each had an associated color. To the ancient Chinese, yellow represents earth - and the Earth, which for a long time was considered the center of the universe by our ancestors. Pictorially, yellow was placed in the middle of the five elements, to indicate that the earth is central and respected.
Later, this notion, combined with the idea of the great unification of Confucianism, bolstered the view that the united royal family, with the Han nationality as its main body, was an empire in the position of central earth, different from the surrounding foreign countries. Thus, yellow was associated with homage through connection to earth, providing a rational reasoning for the emperor's legitimacy and rule.
The imperial robes were also made in the traditional golden yellow - and also have images of the dragon on them. The use of yellow (and red/purple) and the dragon to distinguish the emperor from other mortals harks back to Legalism, a movement that sought to support the power of the emperor through the might of the state - and also to Confucianism, which saw the emperor as the chief model of virtue in the state. Color and other architectural features of the Forbidden City clearly marked out the emperor as the 'Son of Heaven'.
However, there is one exception : the royal library (WenYuanGe), has a black roof. The reason is that it was believed black represents water and so could extinguish fire - appropriate in a building full of paper!
On each corner of the roofs, there are small statuettes, the number of which designated the power of the person living within the building. The number 9 was reserved for the emperor. Only one building has 10 statuettes at each corner (not including the gargoyle guarding the rear and the phoenix in the front). This number symbolizes heaven and is the most holy building——The Hall of Supreme Harmony .
Originally the roofs were made mostly of wood, and to prevent the tiles from sliding off, wooden nails were used. However, without lightning rods, the palace roof would easily catch fire. Therefore, some alchemists suggested that symbols of the fish-tail star could be installed on the roof to prevent fire. Later, these symbols were replaced by glazed tiles which were shaped like lucky animals, some of them mythical.
On the roof of the Hall of
Supreme Harmony, there is (starting from the front) ：
immortal riding a phoenix, followed by:
plus a LiWen at the end (螭吻)
This is the fixed pattern
for the order of the animals.
The Hall of Supreme Harmony was the throne hall, so it has the most animals on the roof. No other buildings in the country were allowed to have more. The other buildings in the Forbidden City are relatively less important and, therefore, the number of small animals on the roof is reduced. The elimination starts from the back.
During the Han dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD), a characteristic layout for palace and temple buildings was developed that remained relatively constant through the centuries. Surrounded by an outer wall, the complex was arranged along a central axis that was approached by an entrance gate and then a spirit gate. Inside, first would be public space and lastly private space. Fuerthermore, residential units are arranged around a central courtyard. This layout was applied throughout the Forbidden City - as a wole and to particular areas.
The basic axial structure can be seen as a triplet - lead-in, central area, final area. In discussing the perfection of artistic works in his 'Study of Poetry', the ancient Greek philosopher Aristoteles said: "By perfection here I mean a thing with a beginning, middle and end." This sequence can be seen in all works of art, even if the boundaries are not explicit, or even well-defined. A good example is the classical music symphony with its prelude, climax and coda. The three parts are self-suffcient though with a temporal echoing such that the middle naturally builds upon the intro and suggests the finale while the whole has its own balance and integrity.
Originally, though less clear now, the Forbidden City is the second section of the old imperial city of Beijing - the middle of a larger triplet. The first part to the south, that is now TianAnMen Square, was originally a procession of three courtyards and grand gates. To the north of the Forbidden City, or 'Inner Imperial City', is now JingShan Park; this area includes the JingShan hill in the center, which serves as a protection from northerly winds and invaders, FengShui principles, and its wide profile, and height that is not so tall as to overpower the Forbidden City or too inconsequential, serves as a beautiful visual backdrop. Emperor QianLong added the five pavilions along the top of JingShan hill, suitable understated.
Behind JingShan Hill (so the third section of the third main section of the Imperial City axis) are the three halls: ShouHuangDian (Hall of Imperial Longevity) where portraits of ancestors were housed, YongSiDian (Hall of Everlasting Memory) and GuanDeDian (Hall of Morals Observation), which were used as mourning places for deceased emperors during the Qing Dynasty. Hence, this very last section of the Imperial City is effectively the most 'private' section. Beyond the three main sections of the south-north axis lie the Drum and Bell Towers.
The Forbidden City itself is composed of the three parts: QianChao (Outer Court), HouQin (Inner Court) and YuHuaYuan (Imperial Garden). The grand scale of the Imperial City, and the long lead-in, play up the sense of imperial authority. It takes time to pass through the grand courtyards and as one approaches each gate, it looms up and over one. This is especially true of the 'U shaped' WuMen gate which completely surrounds one as one gets within its two outstretched arms. All the courtyards before the Hall of Supreme Harmony (TaiHeDian) are without trees, which heightens the sense of space and seriousness.
The Inner Court is, in simple terms, a smaller echo of the Outer Court, though with differences.
The imperial garden is the third, last part of the Forbidden City, relatively small and with the feel of a private garden.
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