Giant pots for firefighting water, Forbidden City, Beijing (photo by Sheila Scarborough)The magnificent Forbidden City in Beijing is an enormous complex, with one set of impressive buildings after another, all strung together across wide open courtyards and with entry gates through to the next set of buildings.

Next to each building, I noticed these gorgeous copper or iron pots.  What were they for?

(Note: it is alarming how much you start to resemble your parents as you get older – my Mom is a curious traveler and reads any sign or historical marker she can find. I found myself scouting for a sign about these pots, all the while rolling my eyes and mentally thanking Mom for making me so nosy.)

The sign I found said that there are 308 of these vats, of various sizes, spread all around the City. They held water used in firefighting.

Forbidden City firefighting pot decorative rings (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

The earliest ones were cast in the late 1400’s; this particular one has decorative lifting rings with a lion/beast-like head, so are probably Qing Dynasty.

Eighteen of the copper ones were also inlaid with gold; I’m sure my local VFD (Volunteer Fire Department) would be suitably impressed.

In the winter, the vats were covered with quilts (or even had fires built beneath) to ensure that the water remained liquid and ready for use in battling blazes.

I’m not sure how the Chinese got the water OUT of the pots to get to the fires….bucket brigade, perhaps?  They probably had plenty of hands available to answer the call.

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I'm a writer and speaker specializing in tourism, travel and social media. NHRA drag racing fan. Co-founder of Tourism Currents. U.S. Navy veteran. Caffeinated.