Forbidden. Forbidden books. Forbidden (the movie). Forbidden fruit. Forbidden love. Forbidden City. Ah, that's what I want to write about. Forbidden City. Actually, Forbidden Cities.
I have been fortunate to visit two “Forbidden” cities – The Forbidden City within China's Capital, Beijing, and Lhasa, the Forbidden City, capital of Tibet. The Forbidden City in Beijing was the imperial home for the Emperor of China and his household for five centuries during the Ming and Qing dynasties, as well as the political center of the Chinese government. The architecture of this place is amazing. Built from 1406 to 1420, it is a World Heritage Site, and is listed by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world. It is also the world's largest surviving palace complex, consisting of 980 buildings with 8,707 rooms, so it is hard to see it all in one day, though the public tours give you quite a bit in 3-4 hours.
The name, “the Forbidden City”, is a translation of the Chinese name Zijin Cheng (紫禁城 ),which literally means, “Purple Forbidden City”. In the Manchu language, it literally means “the Layered Inner City”. The Chinese like a lot of symbolism, and so the name Zijin Cheng is a name with significance on many levels. Zi, or “Purple” refers to the North Star, which in ancient China was called the Ziwei Star, and in traditional Chinese astrology was the abode of the Celestial Emperor. The surrounding celestial region, the Ziwei Enclosure was the realm of the Celestial Emperor and his family. The Forbidden City, as the residence of the terrestrial, or Earth Emperor, was its earthly counterpart. Jin, or “Forbidden”, referred to the fact that no-one could enter or leave the palace without the emperor's permission. Cheng, means a walled city. And, Chang Cheng means “Long Wall”, or “Great Wall”, as in THE Great Wall. Today, the Forbidden City is commonly called GuGong, which means “Former Palace” or “ancient palace”.
The other “Forbidden City” is Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, now part of China. It sits at an altitude of 11,800 feet (3,600 m) on the Yarlung River, which becomes the Brahmaputra River. Lhasa was known as the “Forbidden City” until the 20th century because it was closed to foreign visitors, and Tibet was “The Forbidden Land”, for the same reason. Lhasa was the home of Tibet's political and religious leader, the Dalai Lama, until 1959. Now, it is the administrative capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region in the People's Republic of China. The word “Lhasa”, in Tibetan means “place of the gods”. Until the early 7th century, there is some documentation that it was actually called “Rasa”, which means “goat's place”. The leader of the Tibetan empire, Songstan Gampo, moved from the Yarlung River Valley to Lhasa in the mid-7th century. At that time, he married two princesses, Princess Bhrikuti of Nepal, and Princess Wen Chen of China's Imperial Court. Both of these Princesses were Buddhist, and so Songstan Gampo also became Buddhist, and made all the people in the Tibetan empire become Buddhist. The Potala Palace was built in Lhasa from 1645 to 1648 (see photo), though parts of it actually date back to the 7th century. The Potala Palace was the home of the Dalai Lamas until 1959. Tibet has been referred to as 'Shangri La', 'The Forbidden Land', 'The Roof of the World' and the 'mysterious Buddhist Kingdom'. It remained closed to foreigners for centuries, exerting a strong hold on the imagination of the world, and fascinating mankind. Tibet, as the "forbidden land”, attracted explorers, scholars, pilgrims and adventure lovers, all in pursuit of "Real Shangri-la". It's not only the geographical and natural aspects which are attractive, but also its long historical culture and religion that appeal to foreigners to visit. And, just the fact that it was “forbidden”, that people want to visit – to see what is 'forbidden' and why. I consider myself fortunate to have been inside two “Forbidden Cities”, and have been able to work for many years in the “Forbidden Land”.
For other "forbidden" stories, go here.