A Tale of Two Cities: Comparing the Architectural and Symbolic Expression of the Forbidden City, Beijing with the Vatican City, Rome

Activity: Talk or presentationTalk or presentation at a conference


Presentation at ICAS 12 - 12th International Convention of Asia Scholars: Crafting a Global Future, Kyoto, Japan.

Two of the world’s most iconic building complexes, each sitting at the heart of an ancient and venerable city. The Forbidden City covers 72 hectares of central Beijing. Built in 1420, it was for five centuries home to China’s imperial family as well as its seat of government. For the Chinese, it represented nothing less than the centre of the civilised world before being turned into a museum in 1925.
The Vatican City is located in central Rome. Little over half the size of the Forbidden City, it covers 49 hectares and was for more than a millennium the centre of the Papal States, vast territories in central Italy that were ruled by the pope from 756 to 1870. It became a city-state in 1929 and is still home to the Holy See, the sovereign entity that governs the Roman Catholic church and its approximately 1.3 billion believers.
These two complexes are vast, impressive, and picturesque, yet both were intended as working seats of government, both temporal and spiritual. This paper will examine the complexes’ architectural forms and expression to highlight the culture and beliefs of the people who built them. By contrasting elements such as the towering dome of St Peter’s Basilica with the low-lying halls of the Supreme Harmony complex, and the open colonnades of St Peter’s Square with the massive walls of the Forbidden City, we can see not only how these buildings were built, but also what they represented for the societies who built them.
Period27 Aug 2021
Event title12th International Convention of Asia Scholars: Crafting a Global Future
Event typeConference
Conference number12
LocationKyoto , JapanShow on map