|The bottom section of the stone stairway of the Hall of Preserving Harmony 保和殿 (Bǎo Hé Diàn) is carved from a single block of marble. This view is from the bottom of the stairway. You can see the two smaller sections at the top. The marble was quarried in the Fangshan district about 30 miles out of Beijing. It weighs about 200 tons, and would have been much heavier and larger before carving. The marble was too heavy for water shipment by canal and impossible to carry on wheels. They used a procedure that was used for many of the larger construction pieces needed for the Forbidden City: they slid it.
Because of the location of the quarry, it was necessary to dig wells along the road to the district. The wells were separated by about a third of a mile. When winter came they assembled teams of workers and soldiers who dipped into the wells and spread the water on the roadbed to turn it into an ice river. The ice had to be quite thick to bear the load and had to be as smooth as possible. They loaded the stone on a wooden sled and then had teams of mules and horses slide the stone, and probably the other large stones seen in the palace, right into the construction site. It took 10,000 workers and 6,000 soldiers to complete the task. One of the hardest parts was probably pulling the stones up temporary ramps to the raised level of the Outer Court dais. After that, it would be a matter of sliding them down into place. The carvers could then go to work after the stone had been seated and stabilized. Once carved, the stone would be lighter, but more fragile.
Some scholars think that the placement of the stone is an accident; that it was moved here and then left in place because it would have been too difficult to move to the south. They believe that it was intended for the Hall of Supreme Harmony. On the other hand, this was the entrance to the Outer Court used by the emperor. It is just as likely that this was the intended destination.
Last update: January 2010
© Marilyn Shea, 2009