When we heard that the Palace Museum had opened up a whole new section of the Forbidden City, we weren’t expecting much. After all, previously reopened sections tended to reveal yet more rooms filled with, well, not a lot.
Happily, this new opening is a total game changer, allowing visitors up high to actually walk along the parameter walls between the Forbidden City’s main Wumen Gate and its eastern corner towers, and offering stunning new birds-eye perspectives on the palace, the moat and even Tiananamen Square.
What’s more, the current exhibition is National Museum-quality in its content curation: beautifully presented and with more than a few stunning artifacts to really impress.
This first show (which runs to the end of January 2016) is basically a big fat celebration of birthdays inside the Forbidden City. A surprisingly cheerful topic for the usually earnest exhibition team that turns out to be just as joyful as it sounds.
Everything from the emperors’ birthday robes to lavish tableware and stunning gifts bestowed on him by various officials are on show, many of them dating back to the 1600s and still in immaculate condition.
One of the exhibition’s most jaw dropping pieces, however, is a 39-metre long scroll depicting the grand birthday celebrations that would stretch from the imperial gardens in the west all the way to the Forbidden City.
The Imperial Household Department would festoon the roads in gorgeous decorations with booths, lanterns, fluttering banners and performances for the Emperor and his mother to see from their sedan chairs along the route. Few details have been spared for the birthday boy even in this 2D version.
As you walk between galleries along the walls of the Forbidden City, the vistas just get better and better, affording never-before-seen-by-the-public views that will have you snapping away happily on your phone.
In short, if you’ve been to the Forbidden City before – even multiple times – this hour long detour is well worth the repeat visit. Don’t miss it.
The exhibition ‘The World Rejoices As One: Celebrating Imperial Birthdays in the Qing Dynasty’ runs until January 10th, 2016. The very first gate you pass beneath after you have bought your ticket for the Forbidden City is Wu Men – take a left and walk up to the (free) exhibition and new route through the Palace. Want a bona fide historian to add even more layers to your visit? Then get in touch!