Forbidden City (Chinese: 紫禁城, Pinyin: Zijin Cheng), located in the heart of Beijing, was an imperial palace that served as the home of countless Emperors from the Ming Dynasty right through to the final days of the Qing Emperors. For more than five hundred years the Forbidden City was the political and ceremonial centre of China.
The site where the Forbidden City is located, used to be an Imperial palace complex during the Yuan Dynasty. After the fall of the Yuan dynasty, the Hongwu Emperor of the Ming dynasty decided to shift the capital to Nanjing and ordered the palace to be razed. Later his son, the Yongle Emperor decided to have Beijing as the secondary capital. He ordered the construction of what was known the Forbidden City in 1402 AD. The Chief Architects were Cai Xin and Nguyen An and the Chief Engineers were Kuai Xiang and Lu Xiang.
The construction took 15 years to complete and about 100,000 artisans and 1000,000 laborers were employed. The grandeur was made to be worthy enough for the Imperial Court of China. The pillars of important halls were made of whole Phoebe wooden logs brought from the South-west. The grand terraces and stone carvings were made of stone from quarries near Beijing. The floors were covered with golden bricks, made from clay of seven counties of of Suzhou and Songjiang. A moat was dug up around the palace and the soil excavated was used to create an artificial hill, called the Jingshan hill, the place where the Ming Dynasty took its last breath with the last Ming Emperor hanging himself before the advancing rebel forces.
The Forbidden City remained the seat of the Ming dynasty from 1420-1644 AD before being captured by rebel forces under Li Zicheng. Li Zicheng was defeated by an alliance of Mings and Manchus and fled the palace, not before setting fire to some parts of it. The Qing Dynasty was established in 1644 AD and the Forbidden City continue to be its centre of power. It was captured twice by opposing armies, once by the Anglo-French invaders during the Second Opium war in 1880 and then the Boxer rebellion in 1900. The last emperor abdicated in 1912 and with that, the centre of power shifted from the Royal compound to Tienanmen Square.
The Forbidden City suffered some damage during the political turmoil of China and the Japanese invasion before World War II. However it suffered most during the “Cultural Revolution” of China when its buildings were defaced and important pieces of art were torn down, before being sealed by the government in 1966 (till 1971), saving it from further destruction. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 and is now a museum.
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