Lying at the heart of the city, the Forbidden City – or, more accurately, the Imperial Palace – is Beijing’s finest monument. To do it justice, you should plan to spend at least a whole day here; you could wander the complex for a week and keep discovering new aspects, especially now that many of the halls are doubling as museums of dynastic artefacts. The central halls, with their wealth of imperial pomp, may be the most magnificent buildings, but for many visitors it’s the side rooms, with their displays of the more intimate accoutrements of court life, that bring home the realities of life for the inhabitants in this, the most gilded of cages.
The Forbidden City is encased by a moat and, within the turreted walls, employs a wonderful symmetry and geomantic structure to achieve a balance between yin and yang; positive and negative energy. The City’s spine is composed of eleven south-facing Halls or Gates, all colossal, exquisite and ornate. Branching off from this central vertebrae are more than eight hundred buildings that share the exclusive combination of Imperial colours: red walls and yellow roof tiles. Elsewhere, jade green, gold and azure blue decorate the woodwork, archways and balconies. The doors to the central halls are heavy, red, thick and studded with gold. All in all, the intricacy of the city’s design is quite astonishing.