One of the most beautiful parts of the Forbidden City’s architecture is its roofs and their eaves. Only the imperial buildings of the Forbidden City were permitted to have yellow tiles: yellow was the emperor’s color.
The roof shape of the Forbidden City’s most important buildings also had significance. Double-eave hip roofs were the classiest roofs in the empire, reserved for the top imperial buildings. Animal statuettes have been used on the eaves of important Chinese buildings since at least the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD).
Each animal has different meanings. For example, dragons are used to protect against fire while phoenixes bring good luck and represent virtue. A lion represents the power of the owner and a Haetae (a bull-like beast reputed to butt wrongdoers) stands for justice.
The number of animals reflected the status of a building, with 9 being the highest number permitted in China. The roofs were also built to represent the number 9. Each roof has 9 horizontal beams and 72 ridge beams, supported by 18 columns, making a doubly auspicious sum of 99. The number 9 has a special meaning for Chinese people as it represents longevity and eternity.
This "Rooftops of the Forbidden City" image captures the imperial architecture at it's best in the Forbidden City. It is a prime example of the use of the color yellow, animals, and the number 9.
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