Tian’anmen Square and the Forbidden City

Tiananmen Square, in the center of Beijing, is third largest city square in the world.  Named after the Tiananmen Gate (Gate of Heavenly Peace) located to its north, it covers 109 acres and is 960 yards long by 550 yards wide.

The Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty.  For almost 500 years, it served as the home of emperors and their households, as well as the ceremonial and political center of Chinese government.  Built from 1406-1420, the complex consists of 980 buildings and covers 7.8M sq. ft.  The Forbidden City was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987 and is listed by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world.


The Great Hall of the People is located at the western edge of the square.  It is used for legislative and ceremonial activities by the Communist Party of China.  It functions as the meeting place of the National People's Congress, the Chinese parliament.

One of the monuments in front of the Mausoleum of Mau Zedong

And here’s the mausoleum.  We were lucky--it was closed that day, so we were able to get a picture without thousands of Chinese lined up to get in!

The Monument to the People's Heroes, a ten-story obelisk that was erected as a national monument to the martyrs of revolutionary struggle during the 19th and 20th centuries

The Chinese national flag in front of the Tian’anmen Gate

A closer look at the Tian’anmen Gate, entrance to the Forbidden City.  Built in 1415 during the Ming Dynasty, the Tian’anmen Gate connects the Forbidden City precinct with the modern, symbolic center of the Chinese state, Tian’anmen Square.

The Meridian Gate, which has two protruding wings forming three sides of a square.

Inside the Meridian Gate is a large square, pierced by the meandering Inner Golden Water River, behind which is the Gate of Supreme Harmony.

The gate is three bays deep and seven bays wide, covering a total area of 1371.4 square meters.  It is flanked by two minor gates, Zhendu Gate to the west and Zhaode Gate to the east.

Behind the Gate of Supreme Harmony is another square, the Hall of Supreme Harmony Square.  At the far side is--naturally--the Hall of Supreme Harmony.

The Hall of Supreme Harmony (Tai He Dian) rises almost 100 feet above the level of the surrounding square.  It is the ceremonial center of imperial power, and the largest surviving wooden structure in China.  In the Ming Dynasty, the Emperor held court here to discuss affairs of state.  During the Qing Dynasty, as Emperors held court far more frequently, the Hall of Supreme Harmony was only used for ceremonial purposes, such as coronations, investitures, and imperial weddings.

A smaller gate to the west of the Hall

This is one of the few buildings that still has the original paint (or at least hasn’t been repainted recently).

Inside the Hall of Preserved Harmony (Bao He Dian)

This ramp, behind the Hall of Preserved Harmony, is carved from a single piece of stone 54 feet long, 10 feet wide, and almost 6 feet thick.  It weighs some 200 tons and is the largest such carving in China.

It was transported to the palace by creating ice on the road during winter so it could be pulled along.

Inside the Palace of Heavenly Purity (Qian Qing Gong).  Above the throne hangs a tablet reading "Justice and Honor."

Inside the Hall of Union (Jiao Tai Dian).  Stored here are the 25 Imperial Seals of the Qing Dynasty, as well as other ceremonial items.

Inside the Palace of Earthly Tranquility (Kun Ning Gong).  In the Ming Dynasty, it was the residence of the Empress.

The ceiling of the Pavilion of Ten Thousand Spring Seasons (Wan Chun Ting).  There used to be a steel ball suspended from the dragon’s mouth; legend has if someone lied to the Emperor while in here, the ball would drop and kill them instantly.

The Pavilion of Imperial Scenery (Yu Jing Ting), on top of the artificial Hill of Accumulated Elegance (Dui Xiu Shan).

The Forbidden City is surrounded by a 26 foot high city wall and a 20 foot deep by 171 foot wide moat.  The walls are 28 feet wide at the base, tapering to 22 feet at the top.  At the four corners of the wall sit towers with intricate roofs boasting 72 ridges, reproducing the Pavilion of Prince Teng and the Yellow Crane Pavilion as they appeared in Song Dynasty paintings.

Back to the China page | Back to the Lowe Family homepage

Last updated 1 January 2014