Moat, Corner Towers and Gates of Forbidden City

Moat around Forbidden City
Moat around imperial city
Forbidden City is 3,153 feet (960 meters) from south to north and 2,474 feet (754 meters) wide from east to west, occupying an area of 7,750,000 sq feet (720,000 sq meters). Take an overall view of the Imperial Palace, and focus on the outer surrounding structures, one can find such buildings as the Moat, the four Corner Towers, and the four gates.


Established in 1420, the eighteenth year of the reign of Emperor Yongle (1403-1424) of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), it is 3800 m long and 52 m wide. It was built for security purposes, so both sides of it have steep embankments, making it impossible to cross without some means of bridging it. The water in it comes from the northwest and goes to the southeast. It enjoys a history of 580 years. In 1999, It was harnessed, the embankment renewed, the bed paved with quadrels and the watercourse firmer.

The Moat around Corner Tower
 Corner Tower Photos 

Corner Towers 

They on the four coigns of lofty walls were established in 1420, rebuilt in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). As one part of the Forbidden City, they served as the defense facility just as the lofty walls, the gate towers and the moat. They rest on the base with Buddist-style building surrounded with stone columns. There goes a tale about the construction of them. Zhudi, Emperor Yongle of the Ming Dynasty, ordered the chief project commander to build four fine corner towers, each with 9 girders, 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 girders, 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. This is definitely nothing but a tale. However, the four of the Forbidden City inherited the flexibility of the traditional wood structure construction and the skillful combination of the function and decoration indicated the superb and excellent craftsmanship of ancient Chinese craftsman.

Four Gates

Meridian Gate
Meridian Gate
 Meridian Gate:
It is the only entrance to visit the Forbidden City located in the south.

 Gate of Divine Prowess:
It is the northern gate and the exit after visiting.

 East Prosperity Gate (East Flowery Gate, Donghuamen):
Built in year 1420, it is the east gate of the Forbidden City, echoing to the West Prosperity Gate (Xihuamen). The two share the same structure, rectangle in shape. With red platform, the gate rests on white marble base with Buddist-style building, in which pierced three vaulted gateways, outside square and inside round. On the platform stands the tower with yellow-glazed tile and double-eaved roof surrounded by white marble columns. The tower is 5 bays wide and 3 bays deep with lobbies around. The stele under the east eave with words "Donghuamen" was originally in three languages, Manchu, Mongolia as well as Chinese, later just two, Manchu and Chinese and after the 1919 Revolution only copper Chinese.

Since 1758, the 23rd year of the reign of Emperor Qianlong (1736-1795), the tower was used to store the cotton paddled military clothes which were worn while parading and aired every other year.

In the beginning of the Qing Dynasty, only cabinet officials were allowed to pass through it, while in the middle years of Qianlong's reign, the aged first-degree and second-degree ministers had such privilege. The coffins of the Qing emperors, empresses, the imperial regents also went through it, hence the name "Guimen (the ghost gate)". it has 8 doornails rather than 9 of the other three doors, which is supposed to be related to the ghost thing.

Gate of Divine Prowess
Gate of Divine Prowess (Shenwumen)
 West Prosperity Gate (West Flowery Gate, Xihuamen):
Built also in 1420, it is the west gate, echoing to the East Prosperity Gate (Donghuamen). As mentioned above, they share the same structure.

It is close to the Meridian Gate rather than in the center of the west city wall, as it conforms to the general layout of the Imperial Palace. It is divided into two parts: the Outer Court and the Inner Court. The Hall of Martial Valor (Wuyingdian), the Hall of Supreme Harmony, and the Hall of Literary Glory (Wenhuadian) form the horizontal axis of the Outer Court with the Eastern and West Prosperity Gate at two ends of the axis. Such layout benefited the Outer Court activities and allayed the disturbance to the Inner Court living. Extend the axis further to the east and west and there appear the Dong'anmen and Xi'an men. It's obvious that the Eastern and West Prosperity Gate were important junctions between the Imperial Palace and the capital city.

Outside it is the Imperial West Park. The Qing emperor and empress would often pass through it for the visit to the Imperial West Park or parks in the western suburbs of Beijing city. At the end of the Qing Dynasty, exactly in year 1900, Dowager Cixi and Emperor Guangxu (1875-1908) fled from it when the Eight Allied Army attacked the city.

 Further Reading: Virtual Guide of Forbidden City

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