WHS: Imperial Palaces of the Ming and Qing Dynasties, China

And to round out our reviews of the World Heritage Sites in Beijing, today we’re at what’s probably the greatest icon of Chinese history after The Great Wall — the Forbidden Palace in Beijing, which is half of the World Heritage inscription

Imperial Palaces of the Ming and Qing Dynasties in Beijing and Shenyang

Forbidden City


As the royal residences of the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties from the 15th to 20th century, the Imperial Palaces of the Ming and Qing dynasties in Beijing and Shenyang were the centre of State power in late feudal China. The Imperial Palace of the Ming and Qing Dynasties in Beijing known as the Forbidden City was constructed between 1406 and 1420 by the Ming emperor Zhu Di and witnessed the enthronement of 14 Ming and 10 Qing emperors over the following 505 years.

The Imperial Palace of the Qing Dynasty in Shenyang was built between 1625 and 1637 by Nurgaci for the Nuzhen/Manchu forebears of the Qing Dynasty, which established itself in Beijing in 1644. Also known as Houjin Palace or Shenglin Palace, it was then used as the secondary capital and temporary residence for the royal family until 1911. The Imperial Palaces of Beijing and Shenyang were inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1987 and 2004 respectively.

The Forbidden City, located in the centre of Beijing is the supreme model in the development of ancient Chinese palaces, providing insight into the social development of late dynastic China, especially the ritual and court culture. The layout and spatial arrangement inherits and embodies the traditional characteristic of urban planning and palace construction in ancient China, featuring a central axis, symmetrical design and layout of outer court at the front and inner court at the rear and the inclusion of additional landscaped courtyards deriving from the Yuan city layout.

As the exemplar of ancient architectural hierarchy, construction techniques and architectural art, it influenced official buildings of the subsequent Qing dynasty over a span of 300 years. The religious buildings, particularly a series of royal Buddhist chambers within the Palace, absorbing abundant features of ethnic cultures, are a testimony of the integration and exchange in architecture among the Manchu, Han, Mongolian and Tibetan since the 14th century.

Meanwhile, more than a million precious royal collections, articles used by the royal family and a large number of archival materials on ancient engineering techniques, including written records, drawings and models, are evidence of the court culture and law and regulations of the Ming and Qing dynasties…

Pro tip: Be there first thing in the morning — daily tickets are limited and go quickly!

And this is an extremely large palace: some 980 buildings and 150,000 square meters, even at a brisk walk through all the open spaces, it’s going to take you on the order of half a day to get through. It is, in fact, the Guinness World Record holder for “largest palace” —

— although “largest” is a term of some dispute, for instance if you judge “largest” by “area enclosed by fortified walls” the 178-odd acres of the Summer Palace right here in Beijing. But however you measure, it’s very big indeed…

Forbidden City

… veritably epic of scale, in fact.

Most of the visit is walking through those huge courtyards after huge courtyards,

Forbidden City

if you have a 360° camera, this would be pretty much the place for it!

Lots of statuary scattered around as well, we particularly liked the dragon turtles:

Forbidden City

Not sure where they came up with that, turtles have never struck us as particuarly fierce. Pretty laid back in fact. Remember the chilled out surfer dude talking turtles in Finding Nemo? Well, actual sea turtles you run into scuba diving, they’re just like that. Except they don’t talk. Unless you’re having a really bad narcosis episode, which should be avoided.

Any-ways, although not so many of those alleged 980 buildings are open to the public, the ones that are have some pretty impressive thrones and the like:

Forbidden City

Personally, we actually thought our favorite part was the garden area in the northeast corner, where you find the exquistely named Mountain of Accumulated Elegance

Forbidden City

The Chinese just have the best names for things, don’t they?

The trip through the complex is from south to north, and this is the last sight you’ll have after exiting through the north gate:

Forbidden City


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So yes, this is a place that fully lives up to its hype and should be on your visit list no matter what when you’re in Beijing; palaces just don’t get much more impressive than this!

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