catalogue credits
The Metaphor City
Silk and Metal Carpets
from the Qing Dynasty
The Wings of the
A yin-yang guide to The Purple Forbidden City
based on Dans La Cité Pourpre Interdite by Cyrille Javary, ed. Philippe Picquier, 2001

A description by Pierre Loti
“Before leaving, I wanted once more to see the “Purple City” and the royal halls, this time entering, not by way of hidden passages and secondary doors, but along corridors of honor and through great doors that had been closed for centuries, trying to imagine through the ruins of today the past splendor that must have greeted the arrival of sovereigns.
None of our western capitals was conceived and laid out with such uniformity and audacity, with the dominant thought of exhalting the magnificence of the processions and, above all, of preparing the terrible effect of an apparition of the emperor.
The throne here was the center of everything; this city, as regular as a geometric figure, was created, it could be claimed, with the sole intention of protecting and of glorifying the throne of this Son of the Sky, master of four hundred million souls, with the idea of it becoming the peristyle, to provide access to it along colossal streets that bring to mind cities such as Thebes or Babylon. And it is understandable why Chinese ambassadors, who in the epoch in which their immense patria flourished, came to our kings, were not so astonished at seeing our Paris of those times or our Louvre or Versailles!…
The southern gate of Peking, through which the processions pass, is situated exactly on the axis of this once frightful throne, approachable along six kilometers of straight roads, through arcades and monsters, when by way of the south portal one has crossed the defensive wall of the “Chinese city” passing immediately between two immense sanctuaries, which are the “Temple of Agriculture” and the “Temple of the Heaven”, one follows for half a league the great artery flanked by gold-decorated houses, which leads to a second defensive wall, that of the “Tartar City”, taller and more imposing than the first. Then one finds himself face to face with a still larger portal, surmounted by a black bastion, and the avenue stretches beyond this gate, still impeccably magnificent and straight, all the way to a third portal in a third system of fortifications, blood red in color, that of the “Imperial City”.
Once inside the “Imperial City” one is still distant from the throne, which is reached by following a straight line; that throne which dominates all, which once was hidden from sight; but judging from the surroundings, its presence can be sensed; from this point on the marble monsters multiply in number, the colossal lions bare their teeth from their high pedestals to the left and to the right, one can behold marble obelisks, dragon-envelopped monoliths on whose summits are seated the same identical heraldic creatures, a sort of emaciated jackal with long ears and a deadly grin on its face, an animal which seems to be barking, howling with terror towards that extraordinary thing that stands in front of it: the throne of the emperor. Also the walls multiply in number, cutting across the avenue, walls the color of blood, thirty meters thick, surmounted by strange roofings and crossed by triple portals, even more disquieting, low, narrow traps for rats. The defensive motes at the foot of these walls are crossed by white marble bridges, triple, in keeping with the portals. And on the pavement, now, huge and superb slabs of stone intersect one another, like boards in a wooden pavement.
Then penetrating into the “Imperial city” this same avenue, the length of one league, suddenly becomes deserted and continues, widening still more eloquently amidst long, dark, rectangular buildings: lodgings for guards and soldiers: no more gold trimmed house, no more little shops, nor crowds. From this oppressive bastion onwards peoples lives come to a halt under the oppression of the throne. And at the extremity of this desolation, whatched over by the emaciated beasts from the heights of the marble obelisks, at last the so well protected center of Peking, the refuge of The Sons of Heaven.
This last enclosure of walls which appears from here below to be the enclosure of the “Purple City” and of the palace, has the color of dry blood, like the previous one, is surmounted by watch towers whose lacquered roofs curve up at their triple portals, as always, arranged following the axis of the monstruous city, are too small, too low for the height of the wall, too deep, anguishing, like tunnel entrances.
What an overweightedness, what an enormity in all of this, and what originality in the design of this covering, that characterizes so well the genius of the “Yellow Colossus”…
The falling apart of things here must have begun centuries ago: the red plaster of the walls has either fallen to pieces, as it is, covered with black spots, the marble of the ferocious obelisks, of the huge lions with their nasty sneers could have yellowed only as the result of innumerable seasons of rain, and the green grass, growing everywhere from among the granite junctures brings into relief like strips of velvet the design of the pavimentation… And so one enters, after a series of tunnels, into the immense whiteness of marble, to tell the truth, a candor that runs towards ivory yellow, blotched by the rusting of dead leaves by autumn grass and by the wild bushes that have invaded this place so abandoned unto itself. One comes upon a square paved with marble, an oppressive marble platform on which is erected the throne hall, with its fat blood colored columns and monumental roof of antique enamel… Lying on the ground there are rows of blocks of bronze, none distinguishing itself from the others, sorts of cones upon which the forms of animals were sculpted. They have simply been placed there, lying on the ground, among singed grass and naked branches. They could be taken for the pins in a massive game of bowling, and yet they once served as the ritual entrance-way for processions; they marked the alignments of the banners and indicated where magnificent visitors were to prostrate themselves when The Son of Heaven condescended to make an appearance in the background like a god, on the summit of the marble terraces, surrounded by flags, wearing one of those costumes whose designs conserved at The Temple of Ancestors has sent down to us the super human splendor, all bordered in gold, with the heads of monsters on its shoulders and golden wings on its hood. These terraces sustaining the throne hall are reached by way of a flight of stairs of Babilonian proportions and this, only for the emperor, by way of an “Imperial path”, meaning an inclining plane realized with a single block of marble, one of those untransportable blocks that men belonging to a certain epoch were capable of moving. The five-clawed dragon develops its ring sculpted from top to bottom from this stone that separates at the middle, into two equal spheres, the large white stairs to emerge at the foot of the throne: no Chinese would dare to walk along this path from which the emperors descended, placing the thick soles of their shoes on the scales of the heraldic animals in order not to slide.These marble ramps, still obstinately white, notwithstanding the years, have hundreds of balustrades planted everywhere, whose tops capture the light, and which under close observation reveal the presence of sorts of gnomes enveloped by reptiles.
The hall that is situated up there, now open to the winds and all the birds of the air, has as its roof the most prodigious quantity of yellow majolica to be found in all of Peking and the hairiest of monsters, with angular ornaments having the form of large, open wings. On the inside, needless to say, there is the splendor, that blaze of red gold by which one becomes obsessed in Chinese palaces. Under the vault, of an inextricable design, dragons contort themselves in all directions, knotting and twisting among them; their claws and their horns are visible everywhere, mingling among clouds, and there is one detached from the knot, one that seems ready to plummet down from this threatening sky, holding a golden sphere in its mouth, right above the throne. The throne of red golden lacquer stands in a shadowy light, at the summit of a raised platform. Two large screens made of feathers, emblems of power, stand behind it, above some poles, and upon all the steps that lead up to it there are incense burners, as in the pagoda at the feet of the gods. Like the avenues I have followed, like the triple-gated bridges, this throne is situated on the selfsame axis of Peking, of whose soul it is representative. If it were not for all these walls and fortifications, the emperor seated here, upon this pedestal of marble and lacquer would have been able to extend his gaze all the way to the extremities of the city to the last portal of the outer wall; the tributary kings who came to him, the ambassadors, the armies, from the moment of their entrance into Peking, through the south were, by way of saying, under the fire of his invisible gaze…
On the pavement, a thick carpet of imperial yellow and gold reproduced, with the technique of designs mingling together, the battle of the chimeras, the nightmare sculpted on the ceiling; it is a singular carpet, one that is immense, made of wool that is so thickly woven that walking upon becomes heavy and plodding, as though upon a field of thick grass…
For us, barbarians, who are not initiated, the mystery of this palace is present in these three halls that are absolutely identical, with the same throne, the same carpet, the same ornaments in identical positions; they follow one another along the same line, always on the same precise axis of the four-walled cities, which together form the city of Peking; they follow one upon the other preceded by great marble courts and built upon the very same marble terraces: one reaches them by way of identical stairs, identical imperial paths… But why three halls, seeing that one necessarily has to hide the other two and that it is necessary in order to go from the first to the second and from the second to the third, to descend each time to the bottom of a vast, mournful and viewless court, and climb back down only to reascend amidst masses of ivory colored marble, superb, but so monotonous and oppressive?
There has to be some mysterious reason tied to the number three…”
Pierre Loti The last days of Peking, 1902.
Being an expert antropologist, Loti intuits that he cannot understand The Forbidden City by looking at it through the eyes of an occidental. With great sensibility he is able to register strong impressions, but he obtains only a sense of disorientation, almost of frustration.
His minute attention towards the buildings, to the decorations dismays him in front of the repetitivity of the elements and of the forms. They do not permit him to gather a fundamental aspect of Chinese architecture: the great importance given to empty spaces as an element of introduction and valorization of “fabrication”.
A counter position which reproposes the interaction among opposites, the cyclic repetition, the sense of flow that is within the eternal present of the yin-yang system, conceptual basis of Chinese thought.1
So then why not try and “read” Forbidden City, following this formidable interpretative key that is capable of throwing open the impenetrable conceptual doors that made of the capital of the Celestial Empire the “metaphor-city”.

The Yin-Yang guide by Cyrille Javary

A “yin-yang guide” to its deeply symbolic architecture has been elaborated by the chinese scholar Cyrille Javary. In his Dans la Cite Pourpre Interdite, in deciphering the multiple semantic levels of this icon of Chinese culture, he makes it possible even for us “non initiated barbarians” to penetrate into the “mysterious reasons” of a palace as large as a city, residence and at the same moment prison for one of the most powerful sovereigns of the past.
Reading the Forbidden City in a yin–yang key is an exciting experience that restores life and sense to the immense empty squares, to the maze of streets, to the splendid and deserted halls, to the thousands of sleeping dragons. And doing so clarifies for us that the architectonic elements are all employed in such a way as to refer space and form to symbol and to rank.

Philosophical bases of the urbanistic conception of the Forbidden City

“The place where earth and sky come together, where the seasons melt into one another, where wind and rain gather together, and yin and yang are in harmony”.2
On the basis of Confucian philosophy the capital of the Middle Empire was to be built at the center of the space conquered by Chinese civilization and insert itself as the ideal cosmic center, identified thanks to the principle of geomancy.3
In the heart of this strongly symbolic city, according to the feng shui, one comes upon the three levels of life of the universe (celestial, terrestrial and human) and there the emperor, “Son of Heaven” the only man participating in all three realities was to reside.4
The topographical situation of Beijing (Peking) rendered it particularly appropriate to this aim: the small plane occupied by the city is situated at the north-western extremity of the great plane of southern China and is surrounded by mountains to the north, northwest and to the west, a natural bulwark of protection from invasions by its dangerous neighbors. Going east along the mountainous margin one reaches the sea, while the south opens onto the vast fertile plane crossed by ample rivers, which facilitated the transportation of goods and the payment of taxes.
In the course of the centuries the city was built and successively destroyed more than once, but, like the phoenix, it always resurged from its own ashes, changing name according to its new “owner”.5
The monumental city of today was wished for by Yong Le, third Ming emperor and has not since his time undergone substancial changes, not even at the hands of the Manchu dynasty of the Qing who conquered it in 1664 (the moment of dynastic succession was always marked by the destruction of the works of the previous dynasty).
As in a game of chinese boxes, the nucleus of Peking was made up of four distinct cities, one built inside the other and separated by high walls, but all of them oriented in a south-north direction.The southern–most part was the “External City” destined for the people: under the Qing the Chinese inhabitants were relegated there, and in view of this it assumed the name of Chinese city. The true commercial center of the capital, it was characterized by thousands of shops, houses with courtyards, having the same uniform color of gray, one against the other. To the north stood the “Inner City” or, as it was called after Manchu conquest, the “Tartar City”. Here were the residences of men of letters, of mongol princes and of troops whose duty it was to defend the city. At the center of the “Inner City”, also surrounded by walls, stood the Imperial City, or the Yellow City, seat of administrative activity, residences of the mandarins, civilian and military functionaries. The most internal was the Forbidden City or Purple City, dwelling of the emperor.
“He who governs with virtue can be compared to the pole star of the north which holds its position, while all the other stars rotate around it”. It is Confucius himself who confirms the symbolic centrality of the emperor’s role, and the immobile star he compares him to, the pole star (Zi Wei or the purple star) spreads its blood red glow upon the entire city, making the relation evident through chromatism.
The plan of the Forbidden City is a 960-meter rectangle running from north to south, in width, running east to west, it is 750 meters. The width, therefore, is 7/10 of the length. The proportion is the same as that of the ideal rectangle into which the lines of the ideograms must fit, the characters of chinese writing that express an idea in graphic form.
And according to Javary the entire Forbidden City, is an idea, rather than a palace, a construction of the mind that is as vast as a city.
The general conception derived from the principle of geomancy, combined the orthogonal disposition of the buildings (in the direction of the cardinal points) with a view to a hierarchy of the spaces: the buildings were distributed in function with the particular symbology attributed to each direction. On the vertical axis which was the line along which the entire Forbidden City was developed, to the south was associated midday, the summer, yang at the apex of its potency and to the south were disposed or were oriented the building of representation reserved to the exterior manifestation of imperial power, buildings that Javary defines as yang palaces: 6 The Palace of Supreme Harmony, or rather, The Throne Hall (according to our “yin-yang guide” The Palace of Revealed Harmony, Tai He Dian), The Palace of Perfect Harmony (The Middle Palace, Zhong He Dian), The Palace of Preserving Harmony, or rather, The Hall of the Banquets (Palace of Nurtured Harmony, Bao He Dian); to the north were associated winter, midnight, yin, and the yin palaces situated in the northern part were reserved to the more intimate and private dimensions of the sovreign’s life: The Palace of Heavenly Purity (Great Hall of Yang Limpidness, Qian Qing Gong), The Palace of Potent Fertility (Palace of the Prosperity of Meeting, Jiao Tai Dian) and The Palace of Terrestrial Tranquility (Great Hall of Tranquility, Kun Ning Gong). On the horizontal axis, to the east were associated the dawn, spring, the coming year, yang at its rising, ready to manifest itself: it was the area that was reserved to the residences of the hereditary princes; to the west dawn, dusk, autumn, the year ending, yin at its rising: in this zone, reserved to the past, lived the widows and concubines of the defunct emperors.
At the intersection of the two axes, at the center (which is the fifth and most important of the cardinal points that which does not indicate a direction but fuses them together) was situated the most relevant building from the symbolic point of view, qualified as such, departing precisely with its name: The Palace of Perfect Harmony (Middle Palace, Zhong He Dian).
According to Javary, the wave of imperial power widened concentrically, starting from its initial source, The Middle Palace (Zhong He Dian) all the way to the confines of The Middle Kingdom.7
However, the movement of propagation is organized according to a structure that is more complex and subtler than a series of things fitting into each other. It departs from a base module, which is repeated in continuation, in such a way that the organizing element contemporarily connotes of itself detail and togetherness.
The base module of this organization is the Forbidden City itself, globally speaking, its form is that of a triangle open towards the south on a sort of entrance that is rather narrow, flanked on each side by a building dedicated to cult, the one situated to the east in relation to the sky and to yang is The Temple of the Ancestors of the reigning dynasty, the other situated to the west is tied to the earth and to yin is The Altar of the Earth and of Grain.
The complex of the city of the Ming corresponds to that of the Forbidden City.
Here as well we come once more upon an access portal in front of the sun (Zhang Yang Men) and a street pointing south, the Qian Men, on both of whose sides two large sanctuaries are situated: The Temple of Heaven and The Temple of Agriculture. To the former crowned by a pinnacle identical to that of The Middle Palace, The Son of Heaven at the winter solstice would come to prostrate himself before his father, asking him to renew the creative verve that would bring about the rebirth of the grain.
To the latter, during the celebration of spring, the emperor with the aid of instruments presented to him in The Middle Palace, came to solemnly relaunch the cycle of the grain by tracing the first furrow.
Thus, as in a great symphony having three dimensions, the same theme is proposed from level to level, each time more amply but always according to the same organization: to the east, to rising sun the ritual atmosphere tied to the sky and to the ascendants, to the west, to the setting sun, that which is tied to the earth, to the descendants. Looking at the inside of the Forbidden City, we come upon this same module. To the Forbidden City corresponds The Throne Hall, to the road leading south the imperial axis, the relationship with the sky to the east is marked by solar quadrant, and that with the earth, to the west by a grain measure, as we will observe later on.

Notes on the techniques of construction
The building site for the new capital was initiated in 1406 and lasted 14 years. The surprisingly brief amount of time was made possible by the modular method of construction that the Chinese had been adopting since the XV century which, thanks to the standardization of the material, made it possible for rapid and economic assemblage. It is estimated that while from one to two hundred thousands specialized artisans were at work, at least up to one million Chinese were employed in the process of production and of transportation of material. The beams and columns of the palace were obtained from whole trunks: the greater part of these belongs to a variety of cedars coming from Sichuan, more than 2000 kilometers away. Transportation of the trunks created not a few difficulties: felled in autumn, they were left where they were, until the following spring, when, in order to transport them, flooding torrents which empted into the Yang Zi were employed, after a voyage of 3000 kilometers this river emptied them at the entrance of the grand canal of the capital. The bricks used for the walls were produced in the province of Shandong. Employed were more than ten million bricks which were produced in 384 specialized ovens at the rhythm of one million per year.
The pavements were realized with tiles of a particular brilliance and accurate glazing which resounded when struck with a wooden hammer. They were produced 2000 kilometers away in Suzhou, south China, and were brought to the capital floating on barges along the grand canal.
The yellow roof tiles of the Purple City are an important part of its beauty. If the color of yellow responds to a symbolic imperative (it was the color that was destined for use exclusively by the emperor), the choice of varnishing responded to more pragmatic considerations, seeing that it was made for better maintenance and greater resistance. The larger palaces were endowed with double eaves, which were realized thanks to a system based on a distribution of the masses on double shelves. The corner of the roofs were curved like the “wings of golden pheasants”, in such a way as to give the impression of it being held up by invisible strings. Also the crests of the roofs had a slightly curved line, as of a “dragon’s back”, spreading itself amply to allow for a more improved water drainage during heavy rains and a greater protection from the sun during periods of intense heat. The ample roofings protected wall and columns from bad weather and from humidity and were held up by a play of shelves disposed in the form of cart springs: this technique of extremely complex carpentry insured for solidity, resistance and flexibility, permitting adaptation by the structures to the variations in temperature and humidity, and also to absorb the shocks from earthquakes, occurring frequently in China.
The only enemy of these buildings realized entirely in wood was fire. Heating, that was necessary in a city where winter temperatures rarely rose above zero, was obtained by way of subterranean canalizations which issued into the icy halls. Small coal heaters were used. But they were of little use, unless to be the cause of frequent fire incidents.

The Meridian Gate
At the entrance to the Purple City stood The Meridian Gate (Wu men). This marked the limit between two worlds: that which was reserved to the emperor, The Son of Heaven, and that reserved to common mortals. The Meridian Gate was conceived first of all with the intention to impress. The complex was reinforced by a system of fortifications having a U form, oriented towards the outside and projecting on the sides of the gate.
The form assumed by the openings of The Meridian Gate presents a curious and significant particularity: straight and horizontal on the outside of the city, they are in the form of a circular vault on the inside, affirming symbolically that whoever crosses that gate is crossing a symbolic pillar, going from the Kingdom of Earth, associated to the square form, to the Kingdom of Heaven, whose emblem is the round form. Another detail reveals the same change of levels: on the outside the portal seems to have only three accesses; from the inside on turning around, one, instead, witnesses the presence of five doors: the two additional doors, situated in the two lateral pavilions are not visible from the outside. The Meridian Gate is designed on the basis of a character, wu, associated with the double hours from 11 to 13, the moment in which the sun passes the meridian: midday.
In the Forbidden City all the crossing points (bridges, gates etc.) are in odd numbers, in order to leave a central passage reserved for the emperor exclusively.
Among three external portals the middle one, reserved to the Son of Heaven was entered only by the empress to reach the city the day of her wedding and by the first three qualifying at a superior grade in the imperial exams which took place in The Banquet Hall, to leave the city.
Inside the pavilions above The Meridian Gate stood a throne which was utilized by the emperor on the occasion of some important ceremonies: from the heights of this portal he proclaimed imperial edicts to his people, the annual calendar, recompenses to the faithful mandarins and gifts on the occasion of holidays.
In the two adjacent pavilions were situated two ritual instruments: a drum in that of the east and a bell in that of the west. These instruments were used to announce the exit of the emperor by way of that gate: when the emperor went to The Temple of Agriculture to trace the first furrow or in order to carry out a ritual at The Altar of the Earth, the bell was rung to underline the yin quality, terrestrial of these ceremonies; when he left to go and pray in The Temple of Heaven or to carry out rites at The Temple of the Ancestors of the imperial family, the drum was beaten to underline the yang quality of these functions.
The Meridian Gate was the last one of the Forbidden City to be built, for a practical reason: the material and all the prefabricated and preassembled elements reached the building site of the palace by way of this passage.
If the portal had been built previously, the narrowness of the entrance ways would have created serious problems. Preference was given to building it subsequently.
Whoever went through The Meridian Gate experienced a sense of oppression, due, without doubt to the length of the passage which crossed the building from one extremity to the other. But once outside, one found himself in front of an tremendously immense court. Closed at its other extremity by a high purple wall girdled by yellow tiles, with another pavilion at its center, which was a little less imposing than the one that has just been passed. Notwithstanding the dimensions and the symbolic elements that are found in this court, it did not have a specific name, but like all the courts of the city, it manifested its presence towards the negative, allowing for the magnificence of the building that it preceded.

The River of the Golden Waters
It is only after getting used to the two and a half hectares of empty space of this court that one notices that along its central axis, is traversed by an internal canal, which runs through the court for its entire length and cuts across the imperial axis from south to north. Its presence has a reason for being, which is magical, along with a protective function. It presents one last line of defence, one last protection in front of The Gate of Supreme Harmony and to The Throne Hall. The name of this canal Jin Shui He, literally River of the Golden Waters, derives its sense from geomancy: water (shui) is the element that is associated with the north, while the metals, jin, is associated with the west, in perfect observance of one of the principles of the geomantic art, for which, in order to free a place from impurities, it is necessary to have water flowing from north-west to south-east.

The Five White Marble Bridges
To cross the canal there are five bridges, one next to the other. This closeness, once again serves the purpose of reinforcing the importance of the central axis. Being of an odd number, these bridges determine a central route along with some passages, divided hierarchically in relation to the center: those that were closer were at the service of princes and high ministers. Those more external were for dukes and mandarins. Every one else went through the lateral galleries that surrounded the court.
The hypothesis that is most frequent is that the bridges represent the five Confucian virtues: benevolence, rectitude, respect for the rites, wisdom, justice. There are those who maintain that they symbolize the five elements of the Chinese cosmogony: earth, wood, fire, metal, water. However, their meaning is not to be looked for in their names but rather in the form of the canal that they span. The symmetry in the course of the canal reveals the function of magically protecting the access to the throne of The Son of Heaven, and this is particularly evident when we observe the river from on high (for example from The Meridian Gate). The delicate curve of the river reveals its true nature: it is a formidable bow, and the five bridges are nothing less than arrows, ready to be launched against whoever has ventured inopportunely into the palace.
In China the bow was the noble weapon par excellence, also for the shamanic populations of Asia this weapon is magical, thanks to it, malefic spirits and malintentioned enemies can be repulsed.

The Gate of Supreme Harmony
In the northern part of the court, on a white marble terrace, there is a pavilion with a double yellow roof, The Gate of Supreme Harmony, flanked by two secondary doors. These, like all the other doors of the city, were endowed with heavy jams painted red and dotted all over with huge gilted studs. These studs are not ornamental, rather, they have the function of protecting the door against the axe blows of potential attackers. The original practical use was charged with symbolism in the imperial residence. The jams of all the doors of the Purple City are covered with a considerable number of studs: 81 symmetrically disposed in groups of nine, along nine rows.

The Court
The view that presents itself to whoever enters The Gate of Supreme Harmony (of Revealed Harmony) is breath-taking: the immensity of this court, the widest open space of the Purple City, is like a jewel-case for the three buildings that it hosts. Here yin-yang principle finds perfect application: utilize emptiness at the service of fullness. The distance is so vast that the buildings, set on a triplicate terrace of white marble, seem not to belong to this world whatsoever. A further advantage to all this space is that it was capable of being filled: on the occasion of great ceremonies, such as the crowning of the emperor, his wedding, his birthday, tens of thousands of high functionaries had the enormous honor of uniting in this court and of paying homage to the grandeur of The Son of Heaven. Each nobleman had his place, which was established with scrupulous precision by a meticulous etiquette and which was indicated with the use of small bronze plaques placed on the ground, thus each person could impeccably situate himself in the position corresponding to his flag and to his rank. But, if from his throne the emperor could perceive the crowds of his vassals, they could only imagine him. In this prodigious theater of Chinese shadows, everything was calculated to show the imperial power without ever showing him who held it.
Eighteen incense burners, taller than an average man, placed on the steps of the three terraces, consumed enormous cakes of incense and sandalwood. Behind the thick clouds of smoke that they produced, The Throne Hall appeared and disappeared intermittently, assuming a fantastic and unreal aspects; this fog evoked the clouds where dragons did battle and the sky where the immortals carried out their wanderings.

The Terrace
In China the important buildings, temples or royal residences, have always been built on embankments paved with bricks or ceramics. The main reason hinges on the fact that the structures that were entirely in wood had to be protected from the hot, humid climate. Made of three floors crossed by majestic stairs, entirely surrounded by a balustrade of pillars of decorated white marble, the terrace on which the three buildings stand rises to more than eight meters above the underlying court. No other dwelling could be of a superior height. The entire city was physically at its sovereign’s feet. Another rule governed this visual effect: all the houses including those of the dignitaries and of the ministers, were to have the color of ashes. The imperial palace, like a gigantic jewel in its jewel-case resplended with the red of its walls, shone with the yellow of its roofs, rose in the heart of a uniform city, in the middle of an ants nest of dust-colored dwellings. The superior level of the terrace is reached by way of many stairs. The one that runs on the central axis is divided into two by a decorated ramp, whose oblique extension brings into relief the horizon tality of the platform. Stairs and terraces are bordered by white marble balustrades composed of robust columns surmounted by sculpted forms, generally depicting a little dog-lion seated on a lotus flower. Each of the three levels of the terrace was closed in by a balustrade of one thousand white columns on whose summits was sculpted the forms of dragons playing among the clouds. At the feet of the balustrades there rose 1142 heads of fantastic animals, representations of six of the nine children of the dragon, a creature who is tied in with water, reason for which it is often seen on bridges and canals. By way of a conduit placed in the mouths of these beasts rain water was carried away; at the end of springs The Throne Hall offered a fantastic view of itself, by virtue of water cascading down from the double roofs into the paws of these baroque animals: it seemed to flutter upon a formidable throng of horizontal sprouts that fell into the court whose pavements of glazed tiles transformed themselves into an immense liquid carpet.

Once having reached the upper terrace, one becomes aware that, being larger than The Throne Hall itself, it is, like the previous court, entirely empty. Only at the corners of the embankment are they disposed as if they are to be visible, above all from the court, at first, two utensils of white marble, one for each side, and behind them, a couple of animals in dark bronze. They are not decorative elements but instruments that exhalt the imposition of imperial authority on everything regarding yin and yang. The first of these instruments is a solar quadrant which is not placed there to indicate the hours but to recall the dominion of the emperor over the calendar and therefore generically over time itself. The second is a niche in the form of a small pavilion whose roof rests simply on four pillars. The absence of space dividers makes it possible to see a kind of cubic recipient on the inside: a measure for grains. Fundamental in an empire that is essentially agricultural, this instrument underlines the predominance of the emperor over the harvest and, in general, over space. The solar quadrant, tied to the sun for its use and to the sky for the roundness of its form, testifies to its yang nature also for the luminous warmth of the marble out of which it was sculpted. Symmetrically the dimensions of the grain measure, empty, made of dark metal placed in the shelter of the roof, manifests its relation to the earth and to the seeds that will germinate from it. Its cubic form as well testifies to its yin nature. The positioning of each one seals his relationship with yin-yang: the grain measure is positioned on the west side of the open space, the solar quadrant on the east side. Slightly behind the quadrant and the grain measure on each side of the terrace are two allegoric animals: a turtle and a crane, one and the other, symbols of longevity, they have the function of reinforcing the perennialness of the dynasty, and in view of the fact that they are two, to each is attributed a particular form of longevity. The turtle that hibernates and moves only on the ground, evokes its yin form, while the crane, a migratory bird that flies vivaciously in the heights of the heavens represents its yang form.

The Three Yang Palaces
Facing the platform of the terrace are the three anterior buildings, the most sumptuous of the city: The Palace of Supreme Harmony, Tai He Dian, The Palace of Perfect Harmony, Zhong He Dian, and The Palace of Preserving Harmony, Bao He Dian. Following our guide Javary, these are the three yang palaces, and their names correspond to ritual meanings. They are the bearers of a commandment: they carry out the function of indicating each one with different modalities, the main duty of the sovereign: harmonization. The term “palace” which we use as a translation for dian is in reality a convention, because the ideogram can indicate all the different kinds of halls, civil or religious in which the cult of the ancestors are carried out, foundation of Chinese devotion. That the political conception of power is a manifestation of this filial piety is affirmed without ambiguity through the official title of the emperor: Son of Heaven. The second ideogram of the name (he) exactly defines the symbolic mission assigned to the sovereign: be a factor of harmonization, assure, through his non-action of Taoist matrix, the harmonious collaboration of yin and yang, in order that within the space between earth and heaven, the benevolent destiny of men is carried out. The Son of Heaven does not govern, for this there are the ministers: his duty is that of incarnating on Earth that Purple Star around which the Heaven ceaselessly rotates. Each of the buildings, therefore, will be consecrated to a particular manifestation of this function of harmonization, indicated by the position in space that the building occupies and confirmed by its name. In the building situated more to the south, the function of the sovereign is manifested under the most yang form: The Throne Hall, the place of externalization, of the revelation of imperial authority. In the one situated more to the north, it assumes the most yin form: it is The Banquet Hall, place of interiorization, of maintenance; and, lastly, placed between the two halls, The Middle Palace, the place where imperial sovereignty verticalizes itself and, by way of mystery, finds its most elevated form.

The Hall of Supreme Harmony
Only by going close to The Palace of Supreme Harmony (Palace of Revealed Harmony) does one have an idea of the immensity of its roof: from afar it gives the impression of being a huge golden bird alighted on the earth. The hall has no windows: the exposed panels that acted as walls furnished sufficient light. The sovereign did not need to see the outside: his functionaries, his mandarins, his police saw on his behalf what went on in his country. The main beam of the roof is an immense trunk of about seventy meters in length. Its extremities are thrust down the throats of two enormous dragon heads acting as counter weights. They are situated at such a height (35 meters above the terrace) that one hardly realizes their true height (three and a half meters) and their weight (four and a half tons). Insuring the stability of the structure with their weight, these dragons protected it from fire by virtue of their mythological capacity to spew out water.
This is not the only magical protection, seeing that at the corners of these roofs as in all the others of the Forbidden City, little chimeras of varnished clay are found, kuilongzi, imaginary animals whose duty it is to protect the palace from harmful enemies.
Situated to the south of the three palaces of the southern part of the city, The Throne Hall is the place in which imperial majesty expresses itself in the most extreme way. Magnified by the immensity by emptiness, here the sovereign function of harmonization is exhibited most spectacularly.
If we limit ourselves merely to dimensions, The Palace of Supreme Harmony (The Throne Hall) is the largest building of imperial China. Its monumental structure, the most antique of its size existing in China, covers an area of more than 2300 square meters, with 11 intercolumniation of facades and 5 in depth. But more than its dimensions, what better expresses its ritual importance is its accumulation of symbolic numbers in its disposition. Its roof, for example, rests upon a complex of 72 columns, a number which in Chinese numerical symbology represents organized perfection. These pillars of 13 meters in height, each made of a single trunk which the arms of two men together could not encircle, are arranged in six rows like the levels of hexagrams. Arranged in groups of 12, like the years of the zodiacal cycle and the double hours of the day, these formidable pillars form, in the mysterious semidarkness of the hall, an otherwise mysterious forest where a solution is found to the contradiction between the necessity of having to glorify imperial grandeur and of seeing to it that the throne, which is forced to assume human dimensions, does not lose importance in a hall whose proportions are dictated upon from the outside. In order to obtain this result the architects brought into play a subtle disposition of lights and colors. The six central columns surrounding the throne are decorated with particular luxury, with innumerable figures of dragons done in bas-relief against a uniformly gilted background. Thus contrasting with the other 66 columns that are entirely lacquered in dark red, at the center of the immense hall a magical space is delimited, a vibrantly golden fireplace in the obscure illumination of material that has been perfectly smoothed and admirably polished.
The imperial throne, all done in yellow-lacquered palisander, situated on an ultimate platform which is reachable by climbing seven steps. It is backed by a large screen made of sculpted wood, composed of seven mobile panels, to ward off the evil influxes from the north. Above it, inside a large square encasement from the ceiling, a large sculpted round dragon seems to be in the act of playing with a pearl which symbolizes the sun. An octagonal motif representing the intermediate state between the celestial circle and the terrestrial square in this chapel of power recalls the role of pontiff, of intermediary between earth and heaven, which belongs to the emperor.

The Hall of Perfect Harmony
At the center of the terrace where the three yang palaces are found, between the imposing Throne Hall ad the majestic Banquet Hall stands a building which appears to be negligible, The Palace of Perfect Harmony (The Middle Palace).
It is a simple square pavilion, covered by a single roof. The chimeras that protect the corners are 7, and the beams upon which the roof stands are 5, the number of the empty center around which everything rotates in a harmonious way: the seasons in traditional symbology, the virtue in the confucian one. Four columns are sufficient to sustain the inner structure. The furniture and the decorations are reduced to the minimum necessary. The throne backed by a screen composed of only three panels and placed on a platform of only one step, seems almost to be as comfortable as it is simple.
It is not placed towards the rear as in the Throne Hall, but rather at the geometric center, precisely under the apex of the square roof. At the point where the four apexes of the roof converge there is a gold painted sphere: generally this kind of pinnacle acts as a crown for religious buildings. In Peking, for example, it consecrates the most important Temple of Heaven.
The presence, in the heart of the imperial palace, of a building that is crowned with the same pinnacle as that of The Temple of Heaven is a particular whose importance often goes without being appropriately evaluated. And yet this covering manifests the fundamental importance of what took place under that roof: the relationship that tied the emperor to the heavens. Here the symbolic function of the sovereign, exteriorized in the Throne Hall, had to become central, and achieves its most sublime and most Chinese dimension, as is confirmed by the name of this building. As with the other buildings (dian) belonging to the yang part, it is consecrated to the function of harmonization (he) of the sovereign. However, here this duty is qualified by the ideogram (zhong), middle, one of the most important for the Chinese, in view of the fact that from ancient times until now, it is the ideogram that indicate the name of China itself. In the Yi Jing (The Book of Changes) this advice is given: “Act within the right middle.” The name of this building, therefore, clarifies its symbolic function: it is the place in which the function of harmonization that is assigned to the sovereign, was at the same time to be central and perfect. It is, in fact in this building of the “right center” that the emperor realized the most sacred relationship of lay Chinese spirituality: bring Earth and Heaven together, time and space. Here were read to him messages which would subsequently be sung as psalms to the defunct in the Temple of the Ancestors of the reigning dynasty; every year during the spring festival (the new Chinese lunar year), were presented to him ritually the imperial plough and the grain measure, filled with seeds, with the help of which he was to reawaken the soil and reactivate the work cycle by tracing the first furrow in the Altar of the Earth and of the Grain.
Here in elevating vertically the south-north axis, the emperor reached the sublime level of his duty of harmonization: insure the relationship between high and low, between his “father” and his people, between the Heaven and the Earth.

The Hall of Preserving Harmony
With its double roof resting on shelved columns and its corners covered with odd numbered chimeras, The Palace of Preserving Harmony (the Banquet Hall), in view of its form, its style, its proportions seems to be a reproduction of the Throne Hall. The difference between the two buildings, intuitable through many details, is particularly evident in the name of the palace, as well as in its destination. The ideogram bao contains in all its applications a common idea of protection and of maintenance; in the yin-yang system this is one of the essential functions of the yin principle: restore the forces that the yang principle consumes, concentrate and renovate the energy that yang ostentates, exteriorizes and disperses in the wind. The ideogram, therefore, affirms the symbolic function of this pavilion: while the Throne Hall, where the sovereign exteriorizes, shows the extent of his power, here is the place in which the solidity of this is affirmed and its perennial nature is nurtured. Here the emperor received vassal princes and foreign ambassadors, and all those who coming from the peripheries of China or from direction farther abroad were directed internally, towards the Middle and whose tributes and signs of alliance reinforced the imperial sovereignty. Here audiences were held to strengthen alliances, and here banquets were held. Here were held the last exams of the imperial concourses, which brought together men of letters who had passed the previous tests. The best three among them had the enormous privilege of leaving the Forbidden City by way of the central passage of The Meridian Gate. Subsequently nominated as prefects or as governors in a province that was proportionate to their ranks, everyone took it to heart to survey, protect and maintain the imperial power from which their regional power descended.
The decoration of the hall follows the same characteristics of that of The Palace of Supreme Harmony, with a throne at its center, placed on a raised platform and backed by a screen made of sculpted wood. However, in conformity with the yin tonality of the surroundings, all these elements present themselves in a more unified and a more reduced dimension. The platform, for example, is not reached by seven but by six steps, and the screen, behind the throne is of five instead of seven panels.
On the outside of The Banquet Hall the stairs that lead to the northern part of the Purple City, in symmetry with the one situated to the south, equally presents along the central axis and enormous slab of marble with scenes of dragons sculpted on it in bas-relief: having been substituted several times the existing slab is of a single block of marble, which is sixteen meters in length, three meters wide and about two meters thick. Its weight is more than two hundred tons. This marble was extracted from a cave situated in the Fangshan district, about 50 kilometers from Peking. For its transportation twenty thousand peasants and many thousands of mules were employed. But seeing that no axle could sustain such a weight, winter had to be waited upon in order to move the block. Wells were dug intermittently at distances of five hundred meters, in order to flood the roads, whose borders had been raised. Along this icy track, pulled by mules and pushed by men, this gigantic monolith reached the Purple City in twenty eight days.

The three Yin Palaces
The central sector of the northern part is occupied by a group of buildings that seem to be replicas of the three buildings of the southern sector: here all the characteristics are present from the general lines down to the most insignificant particulars.
Two large rectangular buildings, each of them crowned by a double roof of yellow tilings, their corners garnished with odd numbered chimeras, resting on odd numbered rows of red pillars, surmounted by a main beam supported by two dragon heads, are disposed around a square pavilion of reduced dimensions. The terrace onto which the larger of the two rectangular halls faces, like that in front of The Palace of Supreme Harmony, is marked by the same symbols of power: the grain measure to the west, the solar quadrant to the east and on each side the symbolic couple, turtle to the north and crane to the south. In order to understand what the difference is between the inner court and the outer one, between the yang manifestation and the yin one of imperial dignity, it will be necessary to return to the official denomination of the buildings: The Palace of Heavenly Purity (Great Hall of Yang Limpidness, Qian Qing Gong), The Palace of Potent Fertility (Palace of the Prosperity of Meeting, Jiao Tai Dian) and The Palace of Terrestrial Tranquility (Great Hall of Tranquility, Kun Ning Gong).
Only one pavilion is qualified as palace (dian), and that is the central building. The other two are identified by a specific characteristic which is applicable only to the private part of the imperial residence (gong).
The ideograms that identify these two great halls, invariably translated as “celestial” and “terrestrial”, (in our yin-yang guide) in reality designate neither heaven nor earth, neither yang nor yin, but rather, they tell a more subtle tale: the name is directly tied in with Yi Jing (The Book of Changes). Among the 64 hexagrams of The Book of Changes, the two most important ones are that formed exclusively of six yang lines and that form exclusively of six yin lines. These situations are commented upon in the first two passages of this work: the first that has the sky as its emblem, shows the apex of the yang force and is defined as Qian, the creative impetus: the second which has the earth as its symbol shows the apex of the yin force and is defined as kun, the receptive impetus.
Lastly, a third hexagram (the eleventh, called tai, or spring fluidity) enjoys a particularly favorable status in the dynamic prospective of The Book of Changes, and its name qualifies the central building of the group. The diagram of this model situation is characterized, aside from the parity of the yin-yang lines, by a particular disposition of them. The three yin lines, symbolizing the Earth, are grouped together in the upper part of the figure and the three yang lines, symbolizing the Heaven, in the lower part. In effect the yang, animated by the tendency to rise, and the yin, animated by the tendency to descend, when are placed in this reciprocal position, they come to a meeting point where interpenetration occurs. And precisely it is thanks to this encounter that living things prosper in the universe.

The Hall of Heavenly Purity
With its “dragon back” double roofs, its penthouse façade resting on solid red columns, The Palace of Heavenly Purity could resemble a replica, reduced in size, of The Throne Hall. There, all the elements of the latter are to be found, but in reduce dimensions. The terrace upon which the building stands has only one step, the chimeras of its roof are only nine, which is also true of the intercolumniations of building. On the embankments that precedes it there are the same symbolic attributes of imperial power, the grain measure to the west and the solar quadrant to the east, as is true also of the turtle and the crane, one behind the other, each according its own nature. The court it faces onto recalls, with all the proportions being maintained, the one that surrounds The Throne Hall with the south-north axis at its center, evidenced on the ground with a particular disposition of the pavement. Here the imperial street presents a curious particular: it is overhead. While, in order to reach The Throne Hall, it is necessary to descend into the court and then reascend the triple terrace. Here, once The Gate of Heavenly Purity has been crossed, one is at the same level of the great hall which is reached without using the court, by way of a sort of internal bulwark bordered by a marble balustrade, as white as the terrace itself. This particular is due to the fact that here, we are in the residential part of the imperial palace, therefore in a sector that was frequented by the servants in the carrying out of their daily chores. The contradiction, unthinkable in the official part, had, therefore to be resolved that between the nobility of the imperial space and the necessity of movement of the servants. Raising the level of the main street made it possible for the north-south axis not to be sullied by the feet of the eunuchs, and a narrow diaphragm under this street permitted the servants to reach the opposite side of the Forbidden City without having to cover great distances. In concordance with its double location in the northern part and at the same time in the south of this latter, the destination of the hall is yang in nature, which means dedicated to the duty of representation on the part of the government, realized, however, according to the yin modality, common to the three posterior buildings. The ideogram translated as “purity” (qing) combines the generic sign of water together with a character of great evocative power. Formed of the union between two signs, one representing a bud and the other an alchemist’s pot in which the Taoist distilled pills of longevity, it designates one of the fundamental principles of Chinese philosophy: the eternal spring renewal of life, its current meaning indicates a color: that of the life present in nature. It is for this reason that the sign does not have a definitive translation: it could be the green of vegetation, but it could also be the blue of the marine depths or even the blue gray of the sky at the approach of dawn. When it is combined with the sign of the sun, it forms a character which means fair weather or clear sky. Here it is associated with the sign of water, and, seeing that water is transparent at its source, it means transparent, pure when used as an adjective and “brighten, clean, purify” when it is used as a verb. The Manchu conquorers were playing on this double use when they chose this character as the dynastic name Qing, proposing themselves at one and the same time as “pure” and as being those to whom the Heaven had given the mandate of purifying the negligence of the defeated sovereigns of the Ming dynasty. In the name of this palace, therefore, the question is not one having to do with underlining a virtue (purity) relative to the Heaven, but rather a function, the duty of purification assigned to the daily activity of the imperial sovereign. Throughout the Ming dynasty and at the beginning of the Manchu dynasty, up to the reign of the emperor Yong Zheng, this building served as personal imperial residence of the emperor. In those times it was divided into nine rooms, each furnished with three beds so that no one knew exactly where The Son of Heaven would be sleeping.

The Hall of Potent Fertility
In symmetry with The Palace of Middle Harmony and, similar to it, qualified with the term “palace” The Palace of Potent Fertility (Palace of the Prosperity of Meeting) is a small square building endowed with only three intercolumniation facades. Nonetheless, it’s sole roof whose ridges are decorated with seven chimeras, is crowned by the same pinnacle in the form of a gilded sphere, which is the distinctive sign of the place where Heaven and Earth move towards each other. Here the humanization of imperial power achieves it sublimation, as is true of the function of harmonization in the heart of the southern part of the city. Epicenter of the yin part of the imperial residence, The Palace of Potent Fertility was the hall of glory of the empress. There on the day of her wedding she received all the women who lived in the Purple City, princesses, favorites, concubines, first class servants, a solemn homage that is renewed every year on her birthday. This sublimation of yin is so evident, that its significance occupies a large calligraphic panel situated inside the building, precisely above the throne. Here only two characters are written “Wu Wei” one of the fundamental precepts of Taoism “Do not act”, usually considered as an advice towards inactivity, while it has to do with an invitation on savoir faire. Like the Confucian recommendation evoked, in The Middle Palace “Act within the right middle”, the strategy that is proposed, doesn’t council a volontarist attitude on the part of the sovereign, a government which is active by way of decrees, rightly or wrongly promulgated. The ideal of Wu Wei is not that of the do nothing, but that of the wise and competent person. Without doubt the emperor Qian Long was inspired by this symbology when he decided to have the twenty five imperial seals which gave life and force of law to imperial proclamations deposited in this hall.

The Hall of Earthly Tranquillity
In symmetry with The Hall of Limpidness yang, The Hall of Tranquility yin, which under the Ming dynasty was the residence of the empress, is the place where yin values are more concentrated. Its collocation in the north of the northern part together with its name is a confirmation of this. The first character, kun, refers as has already been pointed out, to hexagram of the great yin, and the second, ning, translated as tranquility, reveals through the elements that compose it a complete range of the important functions that are attributed to yin. It is an overloaded character which combines four elements: from top to bottom, the sign of a roof, that of a bowl, that of the heart the evocation of a sigh or of a hiccup. This combination describes the sentiment (heart) of someone who aspires (sigh) to the quietude derived from the certainty of counting on nourishment (bowl) and lodgings (roof). Its usual meaning effectively is that of tranquility. But if it was chosen, it was precisely for the number of yin symbols which go into its make-up and which produce an elegant reference to the pavilion whose name is derived from it. Globally yin has two ways of carrying out its work, one which is more yin and the other which is more yang. The yang way of restoring strength, that which needs more action is eating. In the Purple City, this is the role of the palace situated to the north of the southern part: The Banquet Hall. Opposingly, the yin way of restoring strength requires only calm and immobility, and also sleep. It is therefore indicated for the pavilion that is situated farther north of the northern part, therefore, doubly yin, originally the palace where the empress slept.

The Imperial City as fractal organisation
However, in the Forbidden City as well as in the entire city of Beijing, it is possible to have a key of interpretation that is actual, one which attributes reason to and which clarifies in scientific terms what Chinese conception applied as naturalistic and conformative propension. Nowadays this particular disposition has found a scientific name: fractal organization. The term fractal is used when making reference to a complex in which in each individual part of the complex, the general plan of the complex can be distinguished, and this is a modality of organization that can be found, above all, in nature. The nervations of tree leaves, for example, are distributed in exactly the same way as are the branches of the trees on which they are found: in each leaf the entire plan of the tree can be distinguished.
This principle of organization has for a long time been a familiar reality to the Chinese who have been applying it intuitively in numerous fields: medicine, distinguishing the entire plan of the human body in the ear or in the plant of the feet; in Yi Jing, where at every level of a hexagram a derived hexagram is to be found; in painting, lastly, where the infinite depth of a landscape that has been realized without perspective unfurls itself seeing that in each point of the table an entire landscape is present. The spirit of the Chinese is not fractal as a result of reasoning, rather it is their propensity to observe nature and to adapt themselves to it that has led them to utilize this way of seeing and of applying it naturally to this symbolic universe, which is the terrestrial dwelling of The Son of Heaven.

1 - The yin–yang system has its origins in Yi Jing, (The Book of Changes, better known as the I Ching) the most important among the classic Confucian texts: yin and yang are two aspects of the very same reality (Tai-ji), the original one, and more than representing absolute qualities, they represent themselves as points of reference within a system of relations. The distinction between them is relative and depends on what is chosen as a point of reference.
Associated with yang is what is masculine, light, heat, the south and east, sky, what is round, time, activity, solemnity , what is public. Its symbols are the sun, fire, the dragon, the color of red, odd numbers. What is feminine is associated with yin, darkness, the cold, north and west, the earth, what is square, space, rest, what is within and private. The symbols of yin are water, the moon, the tiger, the turtle, the color of black, even numbers. In the Yi Jing the abstract concepts of yin and yang are graphically represented: a continuous line for yang and one that is doubled for yin. Departing from this base 64 different combinations were conceived, defined and commented upon.
These were represented by matrixes of six levels, one imposed upon the other (called hexagrams for this reason). They were used as divinatory methods.
2 - Zhou-Li, text from the Zhou dynasty (XI-III century B.C.) which describes the characteristics of the ideal Chinese city.
3 - Geomancy, or the art of inhabiting, is the conceptual framework that once permitted and still permits the Chinese to select and project anthropic surroundings.
According to this concept there exists a sort of mystical essence in nature, a vital energy that permeates all things (Qi). Man’s destiny is interconnected with that of nature because the earth is a single living organism imbued with currents of positive and negative energy which need to be kept in equilibrium in order for things to function well. Where Qi is concentrated and energic, there is development along with prosperity. It is necessary for it not to be dispersed neither by water nor by wind. Thus the place that is considered as ideal for a settlement is one having a hill behind it (to shield it against the wind), one facing towards water and oriented towards the sun. Seeing that the concrete surroundings often are not perfect, this theory called feng shui in Chinese (wind and water) encourages artificial remedies: hills can be raised by the addition of soil, water can be chanelled, practically speaking the natural surroundings can be projected.
4 - The ideogram that represents the monarch (wang) is, in fact, formed by a vertical line and three horizontal ones to indicate that the sovereign is the only person to establish communication between Earth and Heaven, represented respectively by the inferior and superior lines of the character.
5 - Luigi Gazzola “Peking and the Cosmology of the Chinese City” in: China: architecture and city. Bulletin of the Faculty of Architecture of the Università degli Studi of Rome La Sapienza, n. 52, 1995, Gangemi editor pag. 21-38.
The original site of Peking shows signs of settlement dating back to 500.000 years ago (the famous Sinanthropus Pekinensis), but the first historic reports go back to the principality of Yan, who set up his capital there, Ji, which was destroyed in 221 B.C., by the first emperor of unified China Shi Huangdi. From amidst the ruins of Ji in the Han epoch the city of Yuzhu came into being razed to the ground in 936 by the Liao or Khitan tartars. On the very same site they built a larger and entirely fortified city, which they called Nan Jing, capital of the south, to distinguish it from their other capital to the north, in Manchuria. The Liao were defeated in 1125 by the Nuzhen or Jurcin tartars, who united a city of theirs to the existing one, rebaptizing the resulting union with the name of Zhongdu, capital of the center. With the arrival of Genghis Khan’s Mongols in 1215, these two cities were also razed to the ground: in their stead Genghis Khan’s successor, Kubilai Khan, built a new and splendid capital, Dadu, whose glory was sung by Marco Polo in his “Il Milione”. The Mongols, founders of the Yuan dynasty, were driven out after a series of insurrections. They were succeeded by the Ming Chinese, who once more moved the capital to the south, on the banks of the Yangtze river, at Nanjing, capital of the south. Dadu was reduced to the level of provincial prefecture with the name of Beiping, Peace of the North, and only with the third Ming emperor, Yong Le, did it assume the name Beijing, Capital of the North, and the role by which we now know it.
6 - For all the buildings cited in the text a double denomination is indicated: that which is current and, in parenthesis the indication according to the yin-yang terminology proposed by Javary. In italics the Chinese name
7 - Zhong (middle) Guo (country) is the name by which China it has identified itself from antique times, claiming through this its privileged status within the cosmic order.

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