Chang An 长安, The City of Eternal Peace Part. 3 The Daming Palace

The Daming Palace "Palace of Great Brilliance" would serve as the royal residence of the Tang emperors for more than 220 years. Before the construction of this Tang era palace, the former royal residence of the Emperors was the Taiji Palace-City (太极宫), which was built in the previous Sui dynasty.

In 632, officials informed Li Shimin, the Taizong Emperor of Tang that his father- the retired Emperor Gaozu was living in Da'an Palace (大安宮) to the west, which was reported to be inhospitable (as it was built on low-lying lands of Chang An that was plagued by dampness and heat during the summer.) According to the report, every year while the Taizong Emperor was away, his retired father suffered in the summer heat. 

Plan of Tang Chang An and Tang Daming Palace preserved on stone stele of 1080

However, his father would always decline any invitation from Emperor Taizong to spend the summer together. Ever since the bloody palace coup of the Xuanwu Gate Incident in 626 where the Taizong Emperor- then only as a Prince assassinated his two brothers (including the then crown prince) and forced his father to retire, it seemed that father and son had drifted apart to an extent that their relationship never healed.

In 634, Emperor Taizong launched the construction of the Daming Palace at Longshou Plateau to the northeastern flank of the city as a new summer palace for his retired father, as an act of filial piety from child to father. However, his father grew ill and never withnessed the palace's completion before his death in 635. Construction halted thereafter during the rest of Taizong's reign until the time of his successors. Taizong's son, Emperor Gaozong and his wife the future Empress Wu would finish the construction of the massive palace and turn it into the center of political power in the Tang dynasty. 

Music: Tribute

Empress Wu shadowed her husband- Emperor Gaozong during his reign as emperor, and whenever he would succumb to deep sickness (including coma) Wu would habitually step in and grasp the reins of the state as regent. Wu commissioned court architects to design the palace in 660 and construction commenced once again in 662. In time, she would also shadow rule through two of her sons before finally doing away with the farce and declare herself the official Empress. 

In 663, the construction of the palace was completed under the reign of Emperor Gaozong. Gaozong had launched the extension of the palace with the construction of the Hanyuan Hall in 662, which was finished in 663. On 5 June 663, the imperial family began to relocate from the Taiji Palace in central Chang An into the yet to be completed Daming Palace, which became the new seat of the imperial court and political center of the empire. The entire complex was distinguished by its trapezoid shape, with the northeastern end folding into the otherwise rectangular shape of the complex resembling the tail fin of an airplane- like the rest of Chang An, the main entrance to the complex is located in the south. 

The massive courtyard of the Tang Daming Palace itself was something still astounding to the modern mind, boasting an area of roughly 120 Hectares (of the 350 Hectares Palace), this square of the outlying trapezoidal palace alone was larger than the modern Tienanmen Square, itself being one of the largest squares in the modern world. The Daming Palace was also 4.5 times the size of the Forbidden City.


After passing through the Danfeng Gate, there is a square of 630 meters long which ended at the Hanyuan Hall. The entire square was roughly 120 Hectares (of the 350 Hectares Palace), this square of the outlying trapezoidal palace alone was larger than the modern Tiananmen Square, itself being one of the largest squares in the modern world. The elevated platform of the Hanyuan Hall is approximately 15 meters high, 200 meters wide, and 100 meters long. The Hanyuan Hall, where many state ceremonies were conducted, would serve as the main hall for hosting foreign ambassadors during diplomatic exchanges. The hall was also the place where important national ceremonies and celebrations were held. 

About 300 meters north of the Hanyuan Hall is the Xuanzheng Hall in which daily national affairs were discussed between emperors and ministers. 95 meters north of the Xuanzheng Hall is the Zichen Hall where emperors had a private audience with ministers. The arrangement of the three Hall was passed on to it following dynasties. The layout of the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the Hall of Central Harmony and the Hall of Preserving Harmony of the Forbidden City in Beijing is a direct homage to the Tang schemes.

The Xuanzheng Hall is located at a distance of about 300 meters north of the Hanyuan Hall. State affairs were usually conducted in this hall. The office of the secretariat was located to the west of the Xuanzheng Hall and the office of the chancellery was located to the east. From this area, the department of state affairs, the chancellery, and the secretariat handled the central management of the Tang empire, which was done in a system with Three Departments and Six Ministries.

The Zichen Hall, which was located in the inner court, housed the central government offices. For officials, it was considered a great honor to be summoned to the Zichen Hall. The north part of Daming Palace was the garden areas for living and recreation. Linde Palace, located in the northwest, was the biggest attached palace. It was the place where emperors held banquets and received ambassadors. 

Built in rammed-earth construction, the site measured 130 m (142 yards) long and over 80 m (87 yards) wide. An imperial park could be found north of the palace complex. At the back of the great palace was a circular artificial lake which had an island and a pavilion- palace on it. 

The Taiye Lake 太液池, also known as the Penglai Pool, is north of the Zichen Hall. It had an island representing the mythical land of Penglai was built within it. The former gardens that surround the pond and island have been recreated, based on the historical record, with peony, chrysanthemum, plum, rose, bamboo, almond, peach, and persimmon gardens. 

The name itself- which meant: "Great Liquid Pool" is a poetic homage to a graceful artificial lake first excavated by emperor Wu of Han in the 1st century BC as part of his Jianzhang Palace. Interestingly, the Tang Taiye Lake would be homaged by the Jin Emperors and Kublai Khan himelsef and when they created an artificial lake in northern Beijing which was called Taiye Lake. 

The Sanqing Hall was located in the northeast corner the Daming Palace and served as a Daoist temple for the imperial family. The rulers of Tang advocated Taoism and considered Lao Zi, founder of Taoism, to be their ancestor. Both Lao Zi and the Tang Emperor were born with the surname of Li~

Therefore, series of Daoist temples and palaces were constructed in this court. The early Tang Emperors were not only great proponents for Buddhism but also saw themselves as Daoist patrons as well. We will cover in detail later about the various temples in Chang An in the following chapters.



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Der said…
I've been loving your Chang An series. But it is hard to believe that the Daming Palace and all Tang buildings were larger and it seems more impressive than latter designs like the Forbidden City. Consider that the Ming and Qing dynasties had larger populations, and perhaps better technology and yet Tang models were bigger, bolder and more impressive than Ming/Qing edifices?? Can this be possible? I mean the Qing just took over existing palaces of the Ming and didn't even bother with building their own cities or palaces, I guess it's fitting for a foreign people like the Manchus. But Yongle was a meglomaniac too, you would think he' want to surpass the Tang emperors who his father emulated so much. Either the Tang was far richer than Ming, or Tang was more exploitative than Ming, the Li family and their nobles are like the Bourbons in Ancien Regime France spending like crazy on Versailles and other palaces and neglecting the welfare of their people.

What are your thoughts?
Dragon's Armory said…
Well, the Lis didn't build the city, Emperor Wen of Sui did, Li Shimin and his sons built the Daming Palace, which was less of a monstrosity compared to~ say, Chang An from the ground up- and the whole Grand Canals +drafts for invading Korea. Daming's efforts might be big but it was already at a time where there is prosperity in the realm

As for the Ming- well, the Ming had large projects and they built Forbidden City from the ground up but they were also not as dominant as the Tang even with their foriegn expeditions and tributes. They never truly got rid of the northern threat. Forbidden City was also a palace compared to the whole of Chang An (and its many many wards) from the ground up

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