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The Forbidden City

Visit the world's largest wooden building complex


Last updated: by Eleonora Provozin
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From 1406 to 1420, more than one million workers were involved in constructing the imperial palace for Emperor Yongle of the Ming Dynasty. After 14 years, a rectangular palace covered 72 hectares (180 acres) in the centre of Beijing. This was how the Forbidden City started its history. From Ming to Qing Dynasty, the palace served as home and household for emperors for about 500 years. UNESCO lists it as the world's largest preserved wooden structures and a valuable testimony to Chinese civilisation. Serving as the essence of ancient Chinese palace architecture, the Forbidden City also ranks the first in the top five palaces in the world, others being Palace of Versailles in France, Buckingham Palace in England, Kremlin in Russia, and White House in the U.S.

Architects believe the design and the architecture of the Forbidden City are unbeatable. The layout, three-dimensional effect, and the grandeur and harmony of forms tell the story of centuries-old Chinese culture. The Forbidden City consists of over 90 palaces and courtyards alongside 980 buildings with about 9,000 rooms. The area is split into three parts: the defence structures (moat and wall), the Inner Court and the Outer Court.

The structure style of the Forbidden City is magnificent. There are more than ten different types of roofs. The primary colour of glazed tiles covering major palaces is yellow. Glazed tiles of royal residential areas are green. Garden and glass walls are decorated with glazed tiles in other colours such as blue, purple, black, and green. Roof decorations feature a range of mystical animals along the ridgeline of halls. You can spot dragons, lions, and phoenixes that are deeply rooted in Chinese culture.

The Forbidden City is worth visiting all year around. However, the palace often gets crowded. Some of the busiest times are during the Spring Festival in January–March, Labour Day holidays (about one week in late April–early May), summer vacations (July–August), and Golden Week (early October). One of the least crowded weeks in the Forbidden City is the last week in August before the school semester starts on September 1st. The best weather conditions in Beijing are from late March to early June and from late August to late November when the temperatures are the most pleasant for outdoor exploration. Visiting the Forbidden City in spring also allows enjoying flower blossoms in the palace. Thus, we generally recommend late August through early June (with the exception of holidays) as the best time to visit the Forbidden City.

When planning a visit, keep in mind that weekends are the busiest days, so the best time of the week is Tuesday to Friday. Also, morning hours tend to gather the largest crowds, so you might want to arrive early in the morning or after 2 p.m. The number of visitors to the Forbidden City is limited to 80,000, so we recommend to book your ticket online in advance.

If you could bear the cold winter in Beijing, the snow-covered palace in winter is also a breathtaking scene that is worth your visit. However, Beijing is dry and does not usually snow. Remember to check the weather before you go to make sure you could meet snowfalls. Whenever you visit, remember to avoid holidays and weekends.

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