The Imperial Garden was built in 1417 in the Ming Dynasty. It is rectangular in shape with 130 meters from east to west and more than 90 meters from north to south. Its total area covers over 7,000 square meters, containing more than 20 different styles of architecture with profound palace atmosphere.
In the Imperial Garden, there are two groups of artificial rockeries. One occupies the southeastern part of the garden, stretching to the north and south. Viewed from above, the tourist will find that some rocks put together look like many hills attached to each other. Others were arranged in a zigzag pile, appearing as a continuous mountain range. The range is neither very big nor very high, but it still gives visitors the feeling of being in a mountainous region. Climbing up the colourful pebble-paved meandering path leading to the summit, visitors can enjoy various scenes as the vision angles change: The Imperial Peace Hall (family hall for worshipping the North God-the Supreme Deity of Taoism) lies among clumps of bamboo and flowers at the heart of the garden. The hall was renovated in 2005.
The Qianqiu, Yanhui pavilions and Yangxing Study are found in the west, north and southwest respectively. Leaning against the western wall and facing eastward, the Yangxing Study (Study of the Cultivation of Nature) is encircled by limestone. The rockeries were arranged to cover up large pieces of plain- looking wall at the lower part of the building. This also creates a tranquil atmosphere. Duixiu(Accumulated Refinement) Hill }refers to another group of rockeries at the north gate. It is larger, and the designers piled up the rocks in a vertical manner to reflect the image of natural mountains. The hill was constructed in the shape of a square, to balance with a square pavilion at the other side of the gate. Two stairways spiral up from the south and east sides of the hill to the Yujing( Imperial Viewing) Pavilion on top. A cave was dug through the hill at its centre. In the Qing Dynasty, every emperor would climb up to the Imperial Viewing Pavilion on the Double Ninth Festival(the ninth day of the ninth lunar month) to enjoy the scenery with his consort and concubines. There, looking through the Forbidden City, the tourist can see the white dagoba on the Qionghua(Jade)Islet in Beihai Park and the Coal Hill in a distance.
At the foot of Duixiu Hill, stand two stone lions each carrying a dragon sprinkling water into the air from its mouth. The two streams of water then drip down along the cliff, join each other and run into a pool with white marble railings at the foot of the hill.
The garden designers believed that water gives “spirit” to the artificial hill. Chinese gardening puts much stress on the effects of water. There is a saying in China: “When water goes around a mountain, the mountain becomes alive.”
At the time from two big brown pots in the middle of the hill: the high water pressure caused by the fall would force the water to spurt from dragon’s mouths. Now, piped water supplies the fountains.
According to historical records, Duixiu Hill was built in 1538 in the Ming Dynasty on the foundation of the former Guanhua Hall. The rockeries were made in the shapes of 12 animals-depicting the 12 earthly branches, which symbolize the year in which a person is born. Many experts say that this use of animals was not original and was probably made in a later period. This garden was laid out on an invisible axis with the construction on both sides of the axis maintained in balance. The requirement for strict balance and the limited space for construction made it extremely difficult to construct a garden with both harmonious and natural form.
In the long period of Chinese history, gardens and rockeries have been an indispensable part of both private and imperial gardens. The idea of building a mountain with rock occurred at least 2,000 years ago in the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220). After centuries of development, building rockeries in gardens was no longer a simple imitation of natural mountains as it had been in its early stages. Instead, it has been developed into a highly artistic blending of nature and man-made scenery.
There are five gardens in the Forbidden City. They are Imperial Garden, Qing Garden, and Garden of pavilion of Imperial Library, Jianfu Palace Garden, and Garden of Benevolent Peace.