China’s Forbidden City in the capital turned 600 this year, but what purpose does it serve? American writer David Kidd visited Beijing in 1981 after three decades only to be welcomed by an unrecognizable city. Temples turned to factories and schools and its famed city walls vanished; yet, the imperial palace complex still stood tall.

Kidd described the city as manifesting an illusion “of supernatural space and time” in his book “Peking Story.” If you’re inside the palace complex, only then can you see that the city surrounding it remains constant. This is what the Forbidden City is: designed to fool our eyes and conjure an illusion of unchanged scenery from within.

The massive palace complex covers more than 720,000 square meters of land, making it the largest in the world. A 52-meter wide moat and a 10-meter high wall separate it from the rest of China’s capital city, which results in a fortress-like design. The manor is intended to have this architecture to protect the emperor, as well as assert his pre-eminence over his subjects.

Inside the complex, the designs remain intricate, symbolic, and symmetrical. The golden yellow tiles embody the emperor’s link to the sun, whereas the dragon symbolizes the power entrusted to him. The palace buildings, made of wood, were shielded from lightning strikes with conductors; still, regular fires and other natural disasters like earthquakes became the structure’s weakness for six centuries. Majority of the Forbidden City’s buildings are rebuilt multiple times due to this.

The Forbidden City has endured 600 years of natural disasters and political conflict, but is recognized as the proud embodiment of China’s rich history and culture. Its restoration and preservation are lavished with money to secure its future in the years to come. Would you like to visit China’s Forbidden City of illusion and seat of power someday?