Route: Meridian Gate - Golden Water Bridges - Outer Court - Inner Court - Imperial Garden - Gate of Divine Might
Meridian Gate (Wu Men)
Meridian Gate (Wu Men) is the main gate and the south gate of the Forbidden City. Five Pavilions with golden glazed tiles, like five phoenixes, are connected with the gate, thus the gate is also called Five-Phoenix Pavilion. It has five entrances, each of which used to allow entry to people with certain rank. In feudal dynasties, the entrance in the middle was reserved for emperors and other four entrances were used by ministers.
Golden Water Bridges
There is a river that curves like an arch in front of the Gate of Supreme Harmony (Taihe Men). The river is called the Inner Golden Water, the banks of which are decorated with balusters made of white marble. The Golden Water Bridges refer to the five white bridges on this section of the river. In the past, only emperors could cross the river via the middle bridge, which is the longest and widest. The other four were for government officials and imperial clansmen to pass. Surrounded by the red walls and golden tiles, the exquisitely carved white bridges look simple but elegant.
Gate of Supreme Harmony - Hall of Supreme Harmony - Hall of Central Harmony - Hall of Preserving Harmony
After walking through the Gate of Supreme Harmony, we come to the most fascinating part of the palace: the Outer Court. This court contains three main halls: Taihe Dian (Hall of Supreme Harmony), Zhonghe Dian (Hall of Central Harmony), and Baohe Dian (Hall of Preserving Harmony). The Hall of Supreme Harmony is the largest hall in the Forbidden City where grand ceremonies were held. The throne, windows, doors and poles inside are carved with dragon designs. The floor is covered with golden bricks that are of fine quality. At the back of the Hall of Supreme Harmony is the Hall of Central Harmony where emperors had a short rest and practiced the required etiquette before ceremonies. In the Hall of Preserving Harmony, banquets were held on New Year's Eve. The west and east wing halls of the Hall of Preserving Harmony have been changed into galleries for art and clocks.
Gate of Heavenly Purity - Hall of Heavenly Purity - Hall of Union and Peace - Hall of Earthly Tranquility
Stepping through into the Outer Court again, you will see the Qianqin Men (Gate of Heavenly Purity) that is the front door to the Inner Court. The court is mainly the residence of the emperors, empress and other concubines, and other members of the royal family. It centers on the Qianqing Gong (Hall of Heavenly Purity), Jiaotai Dian (Hall of Union and Peace) and Kunning Gong (Hall of Earthly Tranquility). The three halls in order are flanked by the Six Eastern Palaces and Six Western Palaces and the Imperial Garden to the north, with studies, gardens, and pavilions scattered.
On the way to the Hall of Heavenly Purity, you will pass the west wing halls of the Hall of Heavenly Purity that used to be the studies of the emperors and princes. Now, the halls are used as the Pottery Gallery and the Bronze Gallery. The Hall of Heavenly Purity was where the emperor resided and handled routine government affairs. The Hall of Union and Peace was the place to celebrate the birthday of the empress and lay the seals of the country. The empress dwelled in the Hall of Earthly Tranquility. The rooms on the east were the bridal chamber which is arranged exactly as it was during the marriage period of Emperor Guangxu, an emperor of the Qing Dynasty. Other major halls are the Hall of Mental Cultivation, the Pavilion of the Rain of Flowers and the Palace of Benevolent Tranquility on the west.
The delicate Imperial Garden is to the north of the Hall of Earthly Tranquility where members of the royal family amused themselves. There are evergreen cypress trees, rarely-seen flowers and trees, and pavilions in the quaint garden. The Wanchun Pavilion and the Qianqiu Pavilion are very luxuriant.
Gate of Divine Might (Shenwu Men)
The Gate of Divine Might is the north gate of both the Imperial Garden and the Forbidden City. You can start your visit from this gate, which is at the back of the Forbidden City. As we have mentioned before, the palace has four gates, with the other two being the Xihua Men and the Donghua Men, but the Wu Men and the Shenwu Men serve as entrances now.