Under the watchful gaze of Mao Zedong’s portrait, hundreds of tourists hold up selfie sticks, snapping pictures as they queue to pass through The Gate of Heavenly Peace, aka Tiananmen, the imposing front entrance of Beijing’s imperial palace.
No one could have imagined this scene in the early 20th century when the palace, now a national museum, was still home to the emperor. The vast complex served as the Chinese royal residence for more than five centuries. And as the name Forbidden City implies, commoners were not allowed to enter or even dare to glance at what lay behind those high crimson walls.
According to data released by the Palace Museum, which is housed within the Forbidden City, the complex received 19 million visitors in 2019, making it one of the busiest museums in the world.
With construction completed in 1420, the Forbidden City turns 600 this year, which also marks the 95th anniversary of the opening of the Palace Museum, established a year after the final emperor, Puyi, was finally kicked out (12 years after the fall of the Qing dynasty).
We mark the occasion by taking a closer look at the imperial palace complex and weighing up some mind-blowing facts.