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Ancient building knowledge

The difference between palace and hall

AddDate:2015/3/14

“Palace” has existed since ancient time. Just as Erhya·Interpretation of Palace said : “The palace equals to the house”, we can see that this two words can be commonly used. After Qin Dynasty, “palace” gradually becomes the dedicated construction for feudal lords to live and deal with affairs of state. What’s more, its building scale is also getting more and more magnificent. According to the record, the Epang Palace of Qin Dynasty is described as follows: “It extends 2500 meters to the east and west, and 1000 steps to the south and north.” As for the Weiyang Palace in Han Dynasty, its periphery length reaches about 11 kilometers with 43 halls in it. You may be amazed at its grand scale. China’s existing Ming and Qing imperial palace—Beijing Forbidden City, as the grandest existing palace in the world, it occupies an area of more than 720,000 square meters. With enormous pavilions, terraces, towers, shrine buildings and pools inside it, there are over 9900 rooms. Palaces of previous dynasties are also known as imperial city for that they are all constructed as isolated city. As you see, “palace” in here rightly stands for the whole royal palace. The foreigners translated Yihe Garden as “Summer Palace” and it’s correct. Besides, amusements for feudal lords also include Xi’an Huaqing pool, Chengde Imperial Summer Resort, etc. They have another name which is “Xing Place”, meaning that it’s the imperial palace for short stays away from capital. The building that is used for imperial sacrifices is referred to as “the Hall of Abstinence”. There just a famous one in the Temple of Heaven in Beijing.


“Palace” is referred to as a single construction. For instance, the place where emperor lives in the Forbidden City is called “Palace of Heavenly Purity”, while where the empress lives is the “Palace of Earthly Tranquility”. Other imperial concubines live in the six eastward and westward palaces. Besides, when the emperor died, he will be buried in the underground palace. From the above, we get to know that the meaning of “palace” is referred to as the various imperial chambers.


In the field of religion construction, “Palace” stands for the grandiose temple, such as Potala Palace in Lhasa, and Yonghe Lamasery in Beijing. The Taoist “Three Qinggong” is the construction used for worship “immortals”.

In the long feudal society, “Palaces” are almost occupied by the royal and religion.



As the largest single construction in Chinese ancient time, hall is commonly referred to as “great hall”. It is also known as “main hall” for that it is built at the central axis of the architectural complex.


In ancient China, the feudal society has a strict hierarchical principle and the palaces must be constructed according to strict rules. With the highest specification, “great hall” embodies the most superior power of the feudal emperor. There are three most famous halls that still exist in China, namely, “Hall of Supreme Harmony” in Forbidden City, “Hall of great achievements” in Shandong Qufu Confucius temple, and “Hall of Heaven gift” in Dai Temple of Mount Tai. Hall of Supreme Harmony, as the most magnificent one in China’s ancient constructions, owns 11 rooms in its width and 5 in depth, totally 55 rooms. It adopts the traditional double-hipped roof top and uses golden glazed tile for pavement. There are certain slopes before, after, right and left the large roof with main ridge straight and grand, and four vertical ridges arched to some extent. The four corners are slightly tilted, forming beautiful space shape. All of the main, vertical and bifurcation ridges are decorated with a row of orderly “Wen Shou” (see details in the section of “Wen Shou”), adding mysterious colors for the great hall. There is a gold lacquer throne with dragon pattern in the glittering hall, and around it is the tall hypostyle column with curled-up dragons carved on it. The ceiling of the hall top is decorated with colorful paintings which depict how the dragon plays pearls. In the middle of the hall top, a gold dragon algae well is rightly there with a round ball Xuanyuan Mirror hanging down. Hall of Supreme Harmony is the site where Ming and Qing emperors hold ceremonies and issue important imperial edicts. It can be regarded as the quintessence of China’s construction art and representative of China’s hall architectures.

Other Chinese great halls are used to be the sites for royal sacrifice, such as the Hall of Heaven Gift in which the emperor worship the God of Mount Tai. “Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest” in Beijing’s Temple of Heaven, with a unique shape, is the place where Ming and Qing emperors pray for a golden harvest; In the Imperial Ancestral Temple east of Tian An Men, there’s also a great hall (also known as home temple) in which emperors sacrifice their ancestors. As we can see, the “great halls” are almost occupied by the royal.