The Central Axis of Beijing: the Longest Urban Central Axis in the World

The Central Axis of Beijing is the longest urban central axis in the world. It starts at the Yongding Gate on the south and ends at the Drum and Bell Towers on the north, with a length of 7.8 kilometers. Often referred to as the “dragon vein,” the Central Axis ran through the center of the ancient Beijing, splitting the city into approximate halves.

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The Central Axis of Beijing was laid out in 1403 and can be traced even further back to the Mongol capital Dadu. The emperors in ancient China believed that they were the center of the world, so all of their palaces should be built on the axis across “the center” from south to north of Beijing. The many buildings along the Central Axis represent the core buildings created by China’s imperial culture. The Forbidden City, the largest imperial building complex in the world, is located on the Central Axis, which represents the central status and inviolability of an emperor’s power.

The Forbidden City

(A number of grand royal buildings were built along the Central Axis with the Forbidden City at the center.)

The Central Axis represents the unique order and principle of building a layout with symmetry. Many city gates, walls and imperial temples were symmetrically aligned along the Central Axis, such as the Dongzhimen with Xizhimen, Zuo’an Gate with You’an Gate. The Imperial Ancestral Temple was on its left with Temple of Land and Grain (Sheji Tan) on its right. It was the same with the Temple of the Sun (now Ritan Park) and the Temple of the Moon (Yuetan Park).

Temple of the Sun

Many gates and buildings were located along this Central Axis from south to north, including the Yongding Gate, Qianmen Embrasured Watchtower, Zhengyang Gate (South-Facing Gate, popularly known as Qianmen or Front Gate), Tiananmen and Duan Gate (which stand before the Imperial Palace), Meridian Gate (the southern gate of the Forbidden City and the main entrance to the Forbidden City), Forbidden City, Gate of Divine Might, Jingshan or Coal Hill (immediately north of the Forbidden City), Di’an Gate, Houmen Bridge and Drum and Bell Towers. On sides of the central axis from south to north, the Temple of Heaven and the Xiannong Altar (Altar of the God of Farming and Herbs); Imperial Ancestral Temple and Temple of Land and Grain; Donghua Gate and Xihua Gate, Anding Gate and Desheng Gate are examples of symmetry.

Jingshan Park (Coal Hill Park)

The Central Axis was the most important component of ancient Beijing and also is the soul of Beijing as a historical and cultured city. It was like the backbone of the city to highlight the nine levels of the palace buildings. The central axis of Beijing is relatively intact. Chinese famous architect Liang Sicheng once said Beijing’s magnificent beauty was derived from the Central Axis concept.

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