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Home History and Culture Imperial Palace
Imperial Palace
Learn Chinese - History and Culture


The imperial palace, the official residence of the emperor and his family, is the most vital architecture in ancient China.
There were certain architectural features that were reserved solely for buildings built for the Emperor of China. One example is the use of yellow roof tiles; yellow having been the Imperial color, yellow roof tiles still adorn most of the buildings within the Forbidden City (gù gōng 故宫). The Temple of Heaven (tiān tán 天坛), however, uses blue roof tiles to symbolize the sky.

dougongThe roofs are almost invariably supported by brackets (dòu gǒng 斗拱), a feature shared only with the largest of religious buildings. The wooden columns of the buildings, as well as the surface of the walls, tend to be red in color. Black is also a famous color often used in pagodas. They believe the gods are inspired by the black color to descend on to the earth.
Zoomorphic decorations can be found everywhere in the palace complex, even on the roofs. Dragons, phoenixes, lions, elephants, and many mythical animals were used to display the overwhelming imperial majesty or to ward off evil sprits. The Chinese five-clawed dragon, adopted by the first Ming emperor for his personal use, was used as decoration on the beams, pillars, and on the doors on Imperial architecture. Curiously, the dragon was never used on roofs of imperial buildings.
Numerology heavily influenced Imperial Architecture, hence the use of nine in much of construction (nine being the greatest single digit number) and reason why The Forbidden City in Beijing is said to have 9,999.9 rooms - just short of the mythical 10,000 rooms in heaven. The importance of the East (the direction of the rising sun) in orienting and siting Imperial buildings is a form of solar worship found in many ancient cultures, where the notion of Ruler is affiliated with the Sun.
roofThe imperial palace complex in ancient China was usually divided into two parts. The front part was for the emperor to meet his ministers and talk about state affairs, while the rear was used for residential purposes only. The main buildings were all built along a central south-north axis, while auxiliary buildings stood symmetrically on each side. Row upon row of courtyards and lines after lines palatial halls demonstrated regal uniformity, solemnity and dignity.
Most of the palace buildings adopted large sloping roofs. The roof was not only decorative, but also protective, as the overhang with upturned corners ensured that rain water would flow along the roof grooves and fall into places far from the wooden structures of the building. Zoomorphic ornaments on the upturned roof corners were intend to add a sense of mystery to the place, and moreover, served a practical purpose in fastening the roof and keeping water out. The roofs were made of glazed golden tiles. Since this color was a symbol of imperial power, it could only be used by the imperial family.


The Temple of Heaven      宫殿是帝王朝会和居住的地方,以其巍峨壮丽的气势、宏大的规模和严谨整饬的空间格局,给人以强烈的精神感染,突现帝王的权威。同西方相比,在古代中国这个以儒教为国教的君主制国家,宫殿是古代最重要的建筑。


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