Corner Towers of the Forbidden City (Jiaolou)

4 Corner Towers are located in southeast, southwest, northwest and northeast corners of the lofty walls of the Forbidden City. They were built in the 18 years of reign of Ming Yongle in 1420. Corner Towers are served as the defense facilities for the Forbidden City, together with lofty walls, the gate towers and the Moat.
The Moat around Corner Tower
 Corner Tower Photos
Layout of Corner Towers in the Forbidden City
Layout of Corner Towers

Layout: Two Overlying “十” in the Shape of a Curved Ruler

The white base of Corner Tower is in Buddhist-style, surrounded by white stone railings. On it, is a red square pavilion, each side measuring 8.73m (9.55 yd) and attached an outward room in the middle, forming a layout of two overlying “十”.

Restricted by the space on the wall, two attached rooms back to the Forbidden City extend 1.60m (1.75 yd) inside, while the two facing the Forbidden City extend 3.98m (4.35 yd) inside, making the whole corner tower look like a curved ruler from a bird’s eye view. Inside the tower, there is no pillar supporting the roof, so is stair and floor, saving more interior space.

Three Layers of Up-curling Roofs

Each Corner Tower has a three-layer up-curling roof with 9 beams, 18 posts and 72 ridges. The roof is covered with yellow glazed tiles and decorated with auspicious animal statues. Ancient Chinese builders superimposed and inlaid basic geometric shaped woods, like triangles, ladders and cubes to each other to build the complex, stable, exquisite and different style roofs for these corner towers, using no nails at all. It can be say that these Corner Towers represents the high architectural technique of ancient China.


Best Site and Time to Shoot the Corner Towers

The northeast and northwest corner towers are popular among photographers. When the weather is fine, the towers are reflected on the nearby moat, so many people choose to shoot them on the lawn outside the moat. It is a bit troublesome to shoot the southeast and the southwest corner towers, because it demands photographers to go inside to Working People's Cultural Palace and Zhongshan Park.

Based on the movement of the sun and changing of the light, northwest tower is the best for sunrise while northeast tower is the best for sunset. For other time, both are fine.
There are also a plenty of photos taken at the foot of the corner tower. Adopt the angle of looking up, you can get a different corner tower picture.
In addition, if you want to get some panoramic shots of the corner towers or the Forbidden City, Jingshan Park is the best place you can choose.

Design Inspiration from a Grasshopper Cage

Zhudi, Emperor Yongle of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), ordered the chief project commander to build four fine corner towers in four corners of the Forbidden City, each with 9 beams, 18 posts and 72 ridges. The chief project commander gathered all the formans and carpenters together and gave them three months to fulfill the mission. This was really a bitter pill to swallow as nobody had ever seen such complicated yet delicate corner tower. Deep in worry, a carpenter met an old man selling grasshoppers and bought a grasshopper cage for relief. To his surprise, the delicate grasshopper cage with layer upon layer had just 9 beams, 18 posts and 72 ridges. Thereafter the design was brought out. It is said that the old man was the “father of the builders”, Luban.

 Further Reading:
How to visit the Forbidden City

- Last modified on May. 17, 2021 -
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