The Forbidden Palace isn’t just that great Chinese restaurant down the street. It’s the largest palace complex in the world and served as the center of the Chinese empire for hundreds of years. The Forbidden Palace is also called the Forbidden City, which is a name I actually prefer after visiting. Palace isn’t really an apt description. The Forbidden City is actually a huge complex that includes several “palaces.” I say “palaces” because they are really just small single room buildings in a private walled off part of the city. To be honest, I was a little underwhelmed by the site. I guess I was expecting to see more opulence in a palace.
For reference, the city is built with lateral symmetry. You enter from the south (opposite Tiananmen Square) and proceed north through a serious of gigantic courtyards separated by halls and palaces. The first and largest building, the Hall of Supreme Harmony, is where the emperor held court. If you are willing to fight your way through the crowds of people pressing to get a glimpse inside this palace, you can see the throne that the emperor presided from. Just be prepared to throw some elbows. Pass another hall, the Hall of Preserving Harmony, and you will head into the inner court of the Forbidden City. This is where the palaces are located.
In the center of the inner court are the Emperor and Empress’s palaces. East and west of the center lie smaller palaces where the emperor’s consorts would have lived as well as many administrative buildings, most of which are blocked off. All of the palaces have some pretty artistic names (Palace of Eternal Happiness, Palace of Accumulated Elegance, Palace of the Culture of the Mind, etc.). We didn’t have a guide for the Forbidden City, which was probably a mistake. It would have been a lot more engaging if we knew more about the buildings. All we had to go on were the sparse English-language signs in front of some of the palaces. Most of these simply said something like, “The Palace of Eternal Happiness was originally constructed in 1423 during the Ming Dynasty. The name was changed to the Palace of Everlasting Joy in 1538 and to the Palace of Never-ending Peace if 1542.” Of course, that is a completely made up example, but you get the idea. By the end of our trip to the Forbidden City we were wondering why there was so much subtle name-changing going on. Wouldn’t that get confusing?
At the north end of the Forbidden City is the imperial garden which is full of bizarre rocks and trees. It’s not really a flower garden but still beautiful. The courtyards of the palace grounds, of which there are many, are immense and drafty in the winter. They made me imagine rows of soldiers practicing kung fu. And, of course, my thoughts also turned to Civ V.
When I play Civ I tend to focus on building all the wonders. However, the Forbidden Palace is one that I can take or leave if needed. In the original version of the game the Forbidden Palace grants 10% reduction in unhappiness from citizens in non-occupied cities (cities that you built, not cities you conquered). While this a pretty good bonus Happiness usually isn’t a problem for me. However in the Brave New Worlds expansion it does get better if you pursue a Diplomatic victory because you get extra delegates in the world congress. In visiting the Forbidden City, I didn’t actually learn that much about it. I did, however, get a sense of how large the entire complex was. I imagine there must have been a lot of governmental work happening in such a place. Maybe there would have been a lot of diplomatic interactions. Maybe citizens would be happier knowing that there was so much governmental work being accomplished. I really don’t know what to make of the bonus for the Forbidden City. Even after visiting the wonder I still know so little about it that, for all I know, the bonus could be spot on.