Ming Dynasty Architecture - Ancient China
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Ming Architecture

Forbidden City
Hall of Supreme Harmony
Forbidden City (Beijing, 1406 AD)

January 2017 - Early Ming Emperors built Taoist temples to show their power, like the Golden Hall in the Wudang Mountains. But the great achievement of the Ming Dynasty architects was that they built the great palace called the Forbidden City.

This was the palace of the Ming Dynasty emperors, in Beijing, and it was the center of the government of China. It was called the Forbidden City because nobody could go in or out without the emperor's permission.

Forbidden City staircase
A staircase in the Forbidden City

There's a moat around the whole Forbidden City, and a wall nearly eight meters high. Like all Chinese city walls beginning in the Shang Dynasty, this wall is of rammed earth, but it also has three layers of mortared baked bricks on each side. Inside the wall, there are 980 buildings, with more than eight thousand rooms. Most of the buildings are made of wood, with brick floors. The tile roofs are painted yellow, the color of the emperors.

Once you get inside the walls through the Meridian Gate, you're in the Outer Court of the Forbidden City. The Outer Court was for big ceremonies. It has a river running across it (the Golden Water River). After you cross the river, you go through the Gate of Supreme Harmony, and then you are in front of three halls; the middle one is the Hall of Supreme Harmony. This was where the Ming Emperors held court.

Ming Dynasty throne
A throne in the Inner Court

From the Outer Court, you can go on into the Inner Court, where the Emperor lived and did ordinary government business. There are another three halls in the center of the Inner Court. The Emperor lived in the Palace of Heavenly Purity. Next to this hall is another one for the Empress, and behind them is a garden and smaller buildings for the Emperor's other women and children. There were also two Taoist shrines.

Learn by doing - Visit a Chinese garden
or write a story about the Forbidden City
More about the Ming Dynasty
More about Ming Dynasty art

Bibliography and further reading about ancient Chinese architecture:

Qing Dynasty
More about Chinese Architecture
Ancient China


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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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