The “value of the center” appeared as early as prehistoric China in the layout of primitive settlements. The notion of occupying the central position was believed to be the embryo of an urban central axis. Although planners of capital cities in dynastic China endeavored to design their central axes, it was not until the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) that the prototype of a central axis took its form in today’s Beijing. During the ensuing Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, the axis was formally established.
This 7.8-kilometer-long axis runs from north to south, dividing Beijing into two parts that constitute a symmetrical and solemn city structure. Renowned architect Liang Sicheng (1901-1972) defined it as the Central Axis.
As the backbone and soul of Beijing, the Central Axis is rigorous, moderate and orderly, embodying the traditional cultural value of hierarchy and the belief in unity of man and nature. It is the longest existing urban central axis in the world.
On the northern tip of the Beijing Central Axis, lie the Bell and Drum towers.
Located at the junction between the central axis and the city water network, Wanning Bridge was built in 1285, the 22nd year of the Zhiyuan reign of the Yuan Dynasty.
The Gate of Earthly Peace was built in 1420, the 18th year of the Yongle reign (1403-1424) in the Ming Dynasty.
Prospect Hill (Jingshan) was an imperial garden in the Ming and Qing dynasties.
The Palace Museum, also known as the Forbidden City, was the imperial palace of the Ming and Qing dynasties.
The Imperial Ancestral Temple and Altar of Land and Grain is mbodiment of the capital design principle.
The principal gate of the imperial city (which enclosed and was larger than the Forbidden City) in the Ming and Qing dynasties, the Tian’an Men gate (Gate of Heavenly Peace) was constructed in 1417, the 15th year of the Yongle reign, according to the design of the imperial architect Kuai Xiang (1398-1481).
In the Ming and Qing dynasties, there was a closed imperial square in front of the Tian’an Men gate.
The Gate of the Zenith Sun (Zhengyang men) lies to the south of Tian’anmen Square and to the north of Qianmen Street.
The Tianqiao Bridge was built in the Yuan Dynasty. It served as a passage for the imperial family to go to the temples to worship gods of heaven and earth.
Sacrifice played a significant role in the feudal society of China. As imperial gardens for sacrifice, the Temple of Heaven and Temple of Agriculture are located respectively on the east and west sides of the Heavenly Bridge (Tianqiao).
The Gate of Perpetual Stability (Yongding men), the front gate of Beijing’s outer city during the Ming and Qing dynasties, was built in 1553 by command of Emperor Jiajing of the Ming Dynasty, to signify “eternal stability”.