actually lived in its inner sanctums until 1924 with the blessings of the Republican govern-
ment. The City suffered some damage during the Cultural Revolution, though this was lim-
ited by an army battalion that was sent to guard the palace during the uprisings.
ARRIVAL AND INFORMATION: THE FORBIDDEN CITY
Access The Forbidden City can only be entered from the south, via the Wumen gate. This
is most easily accessed via the Tian'anmen gate, just north of Tian'anmen Square; the ticket
offices lie approximately 250m onwards. You can enter from the south too, or from alternate
gates to the north, east and west. If you're in a taxi, you can be dropped right outside the tick-
et offices. The throngs can be massive so if you're walking you may wish to consider heading
going straight from Tian'anmen Square. Visitors have freedom to wander most of the site,
though not to access all of the buildings.
Tours If you want detailed explanations of everything you see, you can tag along with one
of the numerous tour groups, pick up a specialist book (on sale at Wumen), or take the audio
tour, also available at the Wumen; though it no longer has Roger Moore's voice, it is GPS-
enabled, so automatically provides a short, digestible and informative narrative commentary
as you progress through the complex. If you take this option, it's worth retracing your steps
afterwards for an untutored view and exploring the side halls that aren't included on the tour.
Services There are plenty of clean toilets inside the complex, a few places to get a coffee
(though Starbucks were kicked out of here after a public campaign), and even an ATM,
though it is advisable to bring a packed lunch - a full day is required to sample the delights
of the Forbidden City and the cafés are not particularly well stocked or varied.
A huge building whose central archway was reserved for the emperor's sole use, Wumen
(Meridian Gate) is the largest and grandest of the Forbidden City gates. From a vantage point
at the top, each new lunar year the Sons of Heaven would announce to their court the details
of the forthcoming calendar, including the dates of festivals and rites, and, in times of war,
inspect the army. It was customary for victorious generals returning from battle to present
their prisoners here for the emperor to decide their fate. He would be flanked, as on all such
imperial occasions, by a guard of elephants, the gift of Burmese subjects. In the Ming dyn-
asty, this was also where disgraced officials were flogged or executed.
In the wings on either side of the Wumen are two drums and two bells; the drums were
beaten whenever the emperor went to the Temple of the Imperial Ancestors, the bells rung