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Heijo Palace (Nara Imperial Palace)

Name 平城宮跡 / Heijo Palace (Nara Imperial Palace)
Adress Sakicho, Nara-shi, Nara 630-8003
Hours Open

Heijo Palace (平城宮 Heijō-kyū) was the imperial residence in the Japanese capital city Heijō-kyō (today’s Nara), during most of the Nara period. The palace, which served as the imperial residence and the administrative centre of for most of the Nara period from 710 to 794 CE, was located at the north-central location of the city in accordance with the Chinese models used for the design of the capital.

The palace consisted of a large rectangular walled enclosure, which contained several ceremonial and administrative buildings including the government ministries. Inside this enclosure was the separately walled residential compound of the emperor or the Inner Palace. In addition to the emperor’s living quarters, the Inner Palace contained the residences of the imperial consorts, as well as certain official and ceremonial buildings more closely linked to the person of the emperor.

The original role of the palace was to manifest the centralised government model adopted by Japan from China in the 7th century—the Daijō-kan and its subsidiary Eight Ministries. The palace was designed to provide an appropriate setting for the emperor’s residence, the conduct of great affairs of state, and the accompanying ceremonies.

After the capital was moved to Heian, the palace structures were either moved there or suffered several fires and other disasters and disappeared. The site was built over for agriculture that almost no trace of it remained, however the location was still known. Excavations started in the 1970s and large-scale reconstruction based on contemporary literary sources and excavations starting in the 2000s.

The excavated remains of the palace, and the surrounding area, was established as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998 along with a number of other buildings and area, as the “Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara.”

Suzaku Gate
The main entrance to the capital through the Suzaku Avenue was the Rajō Gate (羅城門 Rajōmon). The main avenue was approximately 75 metres wide and extended north for 3.7 kilometres up to the Suzaku Gate (朱雀門 Suzakumon). The name “Suzaku” derives from the Chinese name for the legendary bird which acted as a southern guardian. The palace was surrounded by great earthen walls and had twelve gates, with the Suzaku Gate as largest gate and the main entrance. The southern open spaces was part of the avenue, and the Nijō-ōji (the second great street) approximately 37 metres wide was extending in the east-west direction in front of the gate.
The gate measured 25 metres in width and 10 metres in depth, with 22 metres in height. Built on a platform, the gate was probably a two-storied structure, conspicuously larger than the other gates of the palace. The open space to the front was used for ceremonies such as New Year celebrations. It was reconstructed in 1998.

Second Street and Mibu Gate
The Second Street was a major thoroughfare running east-west along the southern side of the palace precinct. Around 35 metres in width, it was second only to Suzaku Avenue in size. The Suzaku Gate, which was the main gate, together with the Mibu Gate to its east and the Wakainukai Gate to its west, all opened onto this avenue.
In the latter half of the Nara period, the Great Hall of State and the Halls of State compound that comprised the centre of politics shifted to the eastern sector of the precinct. The Mibu Gate served in effect as the main gate to the palace.
The area immediately to the south of the Second street is known to have been used for state offices and detached residences located outside the palace grounds, and was thus a district rivaling the palace itself in importance.

Greater Palace
The Greater Palace (大内裏 Daidairi) was a walled rectangular area extending from north to south between the first and second major east-west avenues and from west to east between the north-south avenues.
The three main structures within the Greater Palace were the Official Compound (朝堂院 Chōdō-in) and the Inner Palace (内裏 Dairi).

Former audience hall
The Great Hall of State (大極殿 Daigokuden) was the most important state building in the palace. It was facing south at the northern end of the compound. It was the largest building, measuring 44 metres in width and 20 metres in depth, with a height of 27 metres.
The hall was thought to have been a two-storey Chinese-style structure with a hipped and gabled roof, and an open front façade having no doors.
No data directly indicating the audience hall’s true appearance have survived. For the reconstruction, locations of the pillars were inferred through reference to the building’s remains at Kuni-kyō, to where it had been relocated. For the upper part of the building, research was conducted on the main hall of Hōryū-ji, the eastern pagoda of Yakushi-ji, and other buildings that survived from the Nara period. The depiction of the Heian Palace audience hall depicted in the Nenchu gyoji emaki (Illustrated scroll of annual events and ceremonies) was also consulted.
The reconstruction was started in 2001 and completed in 2010. For the reconstruction, Japanese cypress wood was used. The building’s pillars and beams were painted in vermilion, the walls in white, the roof with ceramic tiles. The upper part of the interior of the hall was painted with symbols of the Chinese zodiac such as the Tiger, the Horse and the Ox alongside the walls, and floral pattern on the ceiling. The paintings were executed by the renowned painter Atsushi Uemura based on designs from the Nara period.


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