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Forbidden City

Lying at the center of Beijing, the Forbidden City (紫禁城 in pinyin: zi3 jin4 cheng2, literal meaning: "Purple Forbidden City") was the imperial palace during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Now known as the Palace Museum (故宮博物院 gu4 gong1 bo2 wu4 yuan4), it is to the north of Tiananmen Square.

Although no longer occupied by royalty, the Forbidden City remains a symbol of Chinese sovereignty. The Forbidden City appears on the face of the seal of the People's Republic of China.

The construction of the city started in 1406, and it took 14 years and an estimated 200,000 men to build it.

Rectangular in shape, it is the world's largest palace complex and covers 74 hectares. Surrounded by a six meter deep moat and a ten meter high wall are 9,999 buildings. The wall has a gate on each side. Opposite the Tiananmen Gate[?], to the north is the Gate of Divine Might (Shenwumen 神武門 in pinyin: shen2 wu3 men2), which faces Jingshan Park. The distance between these two gates is 960 meters, while the distance between the gates in the east and west walls is 750 meters. The walls are thick and squat and were specifically designed to withstand attack by cannon.

There are unique and delicately structured towers on each of the four corners of the curtain wall. These afford views over both the palace and the city outside. The Forbidden City is divided into two parts. The southern section, or the Outer Court was where the emperor exercised his supreme power over the nation. The northern section, or the Inner Court was where he lived with his royal family. The Forbidden City ceased being the political center of China in 1911 with the abdication of the last Emperor of China. However the last emperor was allowed (and in fact required) to live within the Forbidden City until a coup in 1924. Until then fourteen emperors of the Ming dynasty and ten emperors of the Qing dynasty had reigned here. Having been the imperial palace for some five centuries, it houses numerous rare treasures and curiosities. In 1947, Chiang Kai-Shek ordered many of the artifacts within the Forbidden City to be moved to Taiwan where they formed the core of the National Palace Museum in Taiwan. This action has been extremely controversial, with some regarding it as looting while others regarding it as safekeeping.

Since the 1949 revolution, the front of the Forbidden City has had a picture of Mao Zedong and two placards. The left one reads Long Live the People's Republic of China. The right placard reads Long Live the Great Unity of the World's Peoples. Somewhat ironically, the expression used for 'Long Live' was the one traditionally reserved for Emperors of China.

Listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1987, the Palace Museum is now one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world.

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