The Unique Design of the Three Great Halls

As the most important group of structures within the imperial palace, this ideal measurements were crafted with a great deal of thought and effort

By The Palace Museum

Hall of Supreme HarmonyThe Palace Museum

What are the "Three Great Halls?"
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Even those who have never before visited the Palace Museum have probably heard of the “Three Great Halls”, which comprise the Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihe dian), Hall of Central Harmony (Zhonghe dian), and Hall of Preserving Harmony (Baohe dian). They are recognized as the architectural center of the Forbidden City and the symbol of concentrated imperial power.

The Three Great Halls are crafted with thought and effort
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As the most important group of structures within the imperial palace, this ideal combination was crafted with a great deal of thought and effort.

The ordered variability of the three great halls, distinct hierarchy, and prominent functionality of the architectural details form an exquisite spatial arrangement.

Ten figurines on the roof corners of the Hall of Supreme Harmony - 2The Palace Museum

Each of the three halls is unique
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Each of the three halls is unique in terms of its design, scale, and rank. Renowned as the largest extant wood structure in China, the Hall of Supreme Harmony was the venue for grand imperial ceremonies and, with its double layer of eaves and portico, is the highest ranked among the ancient Chinese architectural hierarchy.

Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihe dian) - Interior (2016-09-02) by The Palace MuseumThe Palace Museum

The interior of the Hall of Supreme Harmony
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Step into the interior of the Hall of Supreme Harmony, which is not accessible to the public.

The dragon throne
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Take a look at the dragon throne.

Hall of Central HarmonyThe Palace Museum

The Hall of Central Harmony
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The Hall of Central Harmony is the lowest ranked of the three structures and the smallest in scale;

The design of the Hall of Central Harmony
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the square hall has a single layer of eaves and symmetrical roof ridges.

Hall of Preserving HarmonyThe Palace Museum

The Hall of Preserving Harmony
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The Hall of Preserving Harmony is next in rank after the Hall of Supreme Harmony.

The design of the Hall of Preserving Harmony
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Designed with a double layer of eaves and hip and gable roof, the hall was the setting for feasts, audiences with vassals, and the palace examination for official service.

Hall of Preserving Harmony (Baohe dian) - Interior (2016-09-02) by The Palace MuseumThe Palace Museum

Interior of the Hall of Preserving Harmony
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Interior of the Hall of Preserving Harmony

Every New Year's Eve and on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month (that is, the full moon), emperors held banquets in the Hall of Preserving Harmony to entertain heads of states, imperial kinsmen, and ministers higher than the second rank.

Venue for the Palace Examination
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From 1789, every three years the Palace Examination was held here.

The Forbidden City - Three Ceremonial Halls (2016) by The Palace MuseumThe Palace Museum

The colossal geometrical terrace
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The colossal geometrical terrace below the three halls is another marvel of design. When seen from above from north to south, the white stone terrace resembles the Chinese character for “earth” (tu).

The ratio of the palace courts and the terrace
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The area of the three front halls measures 234 meters from east to west and 353 meters from north to south, that is 234:353≈1:1.5; when accounting for deviations, it is believed the original design was a two to three ratio.

The ratio of the terrace
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Meanwhile, the large terrace measures 129 meters from east to west and 195 meters from north to south, that is 129:195=1:1.51≈1:1.5, which is the same ratio as the palace courts.

Dragon spouts (chishou, lit. “chi-dragon head”)The Palace Museum

The ratios are all 3:2
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In other words, the length to width ratio of the palace courts and the terraces in the sideways H shape (which resembles the Chinese character for work, gong) are all 3:2 and similar in form.

Credits: Story

Fu, Xinian. Zhongguo gudai chengshi guihua, jianzhuqun buju ji jianzhu sheji fangfa yanjiu [Research on Methods of Ancient Chinese Urban Planning, Architectural Complex Layout, and Architectural Design]. Vol. 1. Beijing: China Architecture & Building Press, 2001.

Wang, Wentao. “The Bejeweled Roof of the Hall of Central Harmony.” Forbidden City 163 (August 2008): 120–121.

Zhao, Guangchao. Zijin cheng 100 [The Forbidden City 100]. The Forbidden City Publishing House, 2015.

Fu, Xinian. Zhongguo gudai chengshi guihua, jianzhuqun buju ji jianzhu sheji fangfa yanjiu [Research on Methods of Ancient Chinese Urban Planning, Architectural Complex Layout, and Architectural Design]. Vol. 1. Beijing: China Architecture & Building Press, 2001.

Wang, Wentao. “The Bejeweled Roof of the Hall of Central Harmony.” Forbidden City 163 (August 2008): 120–121.

Zhao, Guangchao. Zijin cheng 100 [The Forbidden City 100]. The Forbidden City Publishing House, 2015.

Translated and edited by Adam J. Ensign

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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