Heian Palace - History


The palace was the first and most important structure to be erected at the new capital of Heian-kyō, where the court moved in 794 following Emperor Kanmu's order. The palace was not completely ready by the time of the move, however—the Daigokuden was completed only in 795, and the government office in charge of its construction was disbanded only in 805.

The grand Chinese-style compounds of Chōdō-in and Buraku-in started to fall into disuse quite early on, in parallel with the decline of the elaborate Chinese-inspired ritsuryō government processes and bureaucracy, which were gradually either abandoned or reduced to empty forms. The centre of gravity of the palace complex moved to the Inner Palace or Dairi, and the Shishinden and later even the Seiryōden overtook the Daigokuden as loci for the conduct of official government business.

In parallel with the concentration of activity within the Dairi, the Greater Palace began to be regarded as increasingly unsafe, especially by night. One reason may be the prevalent superstition of the period: uninhabited buildings were avoided for fear of spirits and ghosts, and even the great Buraku-in compound was thought to be haunted. In addition, the level of actual security maintained at the palace went into decline, and by the early 11th century only one palace gate, the Yōmeimon in the east, appears to have been guarded. Hence burglary and even violent crime became a problem within the palace by the first half of 11th century.

Fires were a constant problem as the palace compound was constructed almost entirely of wood. The Daigokuden was reconstructed after fires in 876, 1068 and in 1156 despite its limited use. However, after the major fire of 1177 which destroyed much of the Greater Palace, the Daigokuden was never again rebuilt. The Burakuin was destroyed by a fire in 1063 and was never rebuilt.

As of 960, the Dairi was also repeatedly destroyed by fires, but it was systematically rebuilt and used as the official imperial residence until the late 12th century. During periods of rebuilding the Dairi following fires, the emperors frequently had to stay at their secondary sato-dairi (里内裏?) palaces within the city. Often these secondary palaces were provided by the powerful Fujiwara family, which especially in the latter part of the Heian period exercised de facto control of politics by providing consorts to successive emperors. Thus the residences of the emperors' maternal grandparents started to usurp the residential role of the palace even before the end of the Heian period. The institution of rule by retired emperors or the insei system (院政, insei?) from 1086 further added to the declining importance of the palace as retired emperors exercised power from their own residential palaces inside and outside the city.

After a fire in 1177, the original palace complex was abandoned and emperors resided in smaller palaces (the former sato-dairi) within the city and villas outside of it. In 1227 a fire finally destroyed what remained of the Dairi, and the old Greater Palace went into complete disuse. In 1334 Emperor Go-Daigo issued an edict to rebuild the Greater Palace, but no resources were available to support this and the project came to nothing. The present Kyoto Imperial Palace is located immediately to the west of the site of the Tsuchimikado Mansion (土御門殿, tsuchimikadodono?), the great Fujiwara residence in the north-eastern corner of the city.

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