Layout of Forbidden City - Outer Court and Inner Court in Perfect Axisymmetry

Generally speaking, the layout of Forbidden City is axially symmetrical. The main palaces lie on the south-north central axis, and the other palaces distribute in the two sides of axis symmetrically. It is also divided into the outer court in the south and inner court in the north, like most traditional architecture in China. Surrounding it, is a rectangle wall of 10 meters (10.9 yards) high, and a moat as wide as 52 meters (57 yards). There are four symmetrical gates along the wall, the Meridian Gate in the south, the Gate of Divine Prowess in the north, the East Prosperity Gate in the east and the West Prosperity Gate in the west.
Layout of Forbidden City
Axially Symmetry Layout of Forbidden City

Strict Axially Symmetry Layout

Palaces in Forbidden City are strictly symmetrical along a north-south central axis. This central axis is also the axis of the old Beijing city. Main palaces were exactly constructed on the axis, including the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the Hall of Central Harmony, and the Hall of Preserved Harmony in the outer court, as well as the Palace of Heavenly Purity, the Hall of Celestial and Terrestrial Union, the Palace of Earthly Tranquility and the Imperial Garden in the inner court, from south to north.

The Hall of Martial Valor and Hall of Literary Glory lie on the west and east sides of the Gate of Supreme Harmony symmetrically. And in the west and east sides of inner court, there are six palaces in the west and six palaces in the east respectively for imperial concubines to live. Besides, in inner court, there are two secondary axises parallel to the central axis: one centers on the Palace of Compassion and Tranquility in the west wing; the other centers on the Palace of Tranquil Longevity in the east wing.

Outer Court in the South and Inner Court in the North

A Full Map of Forbidden City
A Full Map of Forbidden City

Another obvious Forbidden City layout is that it is divided into the outer court and the inner court. The outer court in the south was the place where ceremonies were held and state affairs were dealt with. The palaces here are big and grand. To the north across the Gate of Heavenly Purity, the inner court was the place for emperors to live with their families. The architecture here is more of a living-style atmosphere.  

Yin-Yang Theory Dominates the Inner-Outer-Court Layout of Forbidden City

Depending on the theory, men and front places are in the range of Yang, while women and back places are of Yin. Therefore, the outer court for the male emperors to rule the country is in the front, and the inner court for emperors and his female concubines to live is in the back area. This layout of Forbidden City satisfies Yin-Yang Thought precisely. It is disharmonious for the male emperors to work in the back place and something bad may happen.

Confucianism is Applied in the Axisymmetry Forbidden City Layout

Confucianism emphasizes the balance and harmony and Confucianism has a deep root in Chinese culture, which reflects on the architecture in the symmetrical layout, no more or no less for both sides to keep the whole architecture balanced and harmonious.

 Further Reading:
How Many Rooms are there in the Forbidden City?

- Last updated on Nov. 27, 2023 by Kate Liu -
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