The Forbidden City’s history began back in the 15th century when the Ming emperor of China decided to build a dwelling palace. The city is situated at the center of Beijing, China and was used by the Chinese as the imperial palace from the days of the mid-Ming Dynasty to the culmination of the Qing Dynasty in 1912. It later became a palace museum in 1925.
The Forbidden City started being built in 1406 and the construction was completed in 1420. Initially, the city was located in the Imperial city during the reign of Mongol Yuan dynasty. In 1369, Hongwu, the emperor of the Ming Dynasty, relocated to the north in Nanjing and ordered the city to be destroyed. Later, his son Zhu Di created his palace in Beijing and in 1402 he rose to the throne becoming the new Emperor. As the new emperor, he made Beijing the secondary city of Ming empire and ordered the reconstruction of the Forbidden City in 1406.
The creation of the city attracted a number of designers including the two chief architects Cai Xin and a Vietnamese eunuch by the name Nguyen An. The main engineers were Lu Xiang and Kuai Xiang. In total the construction employed about 100,000 skilled artisans and almost a million laborers. It lasted for 15 years and demanded all the parties involved to work together.
The materials used to construct the city were collected from different regions of China. The pillars of the halls were made from the Phoebe Zhennan wood which is found in the forests of southwestern China. These were later replaced with pinewood during the rule of Qing dynasty. As for the large stone carvings and the grand terraces, the constructors used stones from Beijing quarries. What is special about these stones is that they were transported using water. This was because the larger stones were too heavy to be transported in a conventional way. Therefore wells were dug along the route and water was poured through them which made the stones slide to their destination.
Golden bricks were used for paving the floors of the major halls where clay from the counties of Songjiang and Suzhou was used to hold the bricks together. In addition, the bricks were baked for months to give a smooth and appealing feeling capable of producing a metallic sound when hit. Amazingly these original floors are still in use today.
Fall of the Ming Dynasty
After the construction had been completed, the Ming dynasty occupied the city from 1420 to 1644. Later, in April of 1644, rebel forces led by Chongzhen and Li Zicheng captured the city forcing the last emperor of Ming Dynasty to hang himself. As a result Li Zicheng declared himself as the new Shun Dynasty Emperor and occupied the city. This did not last for long and soon he fled after the forces of Manchu and Wu Sangui attacked the city burning some parts of it down.
The Manchu forces began to rule over Northern China in October, 1644. As a result, the prince regent Dorgon succeeded Ming and proclaimed the birth of the Qing Dynasty while holding an event in the Forbidden City. The new emperor made some changes to the city. For instance the name plates and signs were made bilingual, both in Manchu and Chinese. The official bedchamber of the Emperor and the hall of Earthly Tranquility were made into a Shamanist shrine. This all led to the establishment of the Forbidden City as the center of power for the Qing Dynasty.
In 1925, the Forbidden City was named as a palace museum. In the present time, the museum is used to preserve and restore the city. The restoration process started in 2005 and aims at restoring the city to its pre-1912 state. In addition, the IBM Corporation in collaboration with the Palace City embarked in a project to build an online model of the city and all the sites associated with Beijing. This virtual replica of the city will comprise of 800 buildings in a single structure.