Where Mere Mortals Dared Not Enter
The magnificent Forbidden City, so named because it was off-limits to commoners for 500 years, was the imperial court for twenty-four emperors from the early days of the Ming dynasty in the 15th century until the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911. It is the largest, most complete, and best-preserved cluster of ancient buildings in China, representing the work of battalions of laborers.
Fires and lootings over the years have left a largely post-18th-century shell that mimics its original layout, and much of its storied wealth and opulent furnishings are long gone. Nonetheless, this vast complex of halls, pavilions, courtyards, and walls is a masterwork of architectural balance, monumental but never oppressive. A self-guiding tape narrated by Roger Moore helps bring it alive, with tales of eunuchs, concubines, ministers, priests, court intrigues, and terrific excesses.
Occupying more than 183 acres, the expansive complex earns the title of “city.” It was not unusual for emperors and servants alike never to venture beyond the moat-surrounded 35-foot walls and formidable gates – ever. That they believed themselves to be at the cosmic center of the universe is a fantasy visitors can readily appreciate today.