China: The eternal Forbidden City
As disenchanted as I was with the visit to the Great Wall, the thrill of visiting the Forbidden City for the umpteenth time is always there. For all its vastness, there is always a nook or cranny that can be discovered anew; always an around-the-corner detail that enchants the eye.
Especially this time, after the Olympics and the celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the PRC, when so much restoration work has been completed. There is still much left to do: most of the structures are made of wood (and have thus succumbed to fire time and again over the centuries) and as such, are subject to deterioration over time. However, there has also been strong criticism voiced that the restoriation process has been overdone. Personally, I think the patina of age and effects of air pollution will kick in all too soon, so let us enjoy the shine of the gilt and the intensity of the colors as long as they last.
A few quick facts: Initially built on the order of Emperor Zhu Di when he moved back to Beijing, the Forbidden City took 15 years to complete, from 1406 to 1420. . Between 1420 and 1912, it was been the home for 10 Ming Dynasty and 14 Qing Dynasty emperors and their respective courts.
The complex covers 72 ha (720,000 square metres or 7,800,000 square feet) and consists of 980 surviving buildings with 8,707 bays of rooms and. It is said that over one million workers were actively involved during its construction. Precious woods and marbles from all over China were used. The layout of the Forbidden City follows ancient and specific rules as set forth in the Confucian Book of Rites. Thus the ceremonial and ancestral temples (Outer Court) are in the front, with the residential complex (Inner Court) in the rear.
Symbols in ancient China were ubiquitous:
- The color yellow was reserved for all things imperial. Thus the yellow-glazed roof tiles of the Forbidden City are indicative of its occupant.
- The figurines on the roof are not mere decorations: They show what kind of ceremonies can be performed in that building. A minor building might have only 3 or 5 statuettes. The Palace of Supreme Harmony has the maximum number of 10: The procession is led by a man riding a phoenix, followed by nine mythical beasts and lastly followed by the imperial dragon, representing the authority of the state.
The various mythical beasts (evil-dispelling bull, wind- and storm-summoning fish, auspicious seahorse, courageous goat-bull, etc.) are set to pounce upon man and devour him, should he not perform his duties with faithfulness and rectitude. Would that today’s politicians the world over be under the influence of the mythical beasts!
- The color red was a symbol of happiness and auspiciousness, thus the use of this color on all the walls and structures.
Before you know it, what with all the walking, climbing up and down stairs, around buildings, several hours have passed and you are exhausted – and maybe even not wishing to live in such a vast home, but happy for a more relaxed and intimate abode.
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