In the heart of Beijing — through The Gate of Heavenly Peace guarded by a very large image of Mao Zedong — lies the largest and best-preserved collection of ancient buildings in China that were off-limits to the public for more than 500 years — the Forbidden City.
Officially, the palace is called The Palace Museum, but most Chinese people simply call it Gù Gōng or Ancient Palace. The complex covers 7,800,000 square feet and contains 980 buildings, some that were capable of holding more than 100,000 people at once!
These huge, elaborately decorated structures were once the home of two dynasties of emperors, the Ming (1368–1644) and the Qing (1644–1912) who didn't leave this walled city of pleasure unless they absolutely had to. With libraries, museums, temples, theaters, gardens, tennis courts and a whole household of servants at your beck and call, I know I wouldn't have wanted to leave!
The Forbidden City was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 and is considered to be the largest collection of preserved ancient wood structures in the entire world!
The palace walls are an impressive 7.9 m high and 8.62 m at their widest point. To deter unwanted visitors even further, a moat 52 m wide and 6 m deep surrounds the entire complex. There are also guard towers located at all four corners and only four gates — one on each side.
Tourists enter through the Meridian Gate (see below) and can either take an official tour, an audio tour, or a self-guided wander through the incredible complex. (Click here for opening hours and entry fee information).
Restoration is ongoing at the Forbidden City, with plans to have 80% of the palace open to visitors by 2020.