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·       Temple of Heaven
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 Beijing Tour Guide: Temple of Heaven


The Temple of Heaven is an enormous complex in the world built in the 15th Century during the Ming Dynasty  and expanded during the Qing Dynasty. Set in a tranquil park, the temple complex covers 273 hectares. In 1998, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. Its most famous building is the triple-roofed Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, which is often mistakenly called the Temple of Heaven, a name which actually applies to the whole park complex, including the main altar, which was the most important structure in the temple.

Located in the southern part of the city, the temple was used by Emperors from the Ming and Qing dynasties as an altar of worship. During those times, it was believed that the emperor had a direct relationship with heaven. The layout of the grounds and its buildings symbolize the relationship between heaven and earth, humans and the gods - in accord with Chinese cosmological laws. Granite walls enclose the Temple of Heaven with the outer wall a taller, semi-circular wall in the northern part, representing the heaven, and the shorter, rectangular southern wall represents the earth. This reflects the ancient Chinese belief that ''The heaven is round and the earth is square.''

Two enclosed walls divide the Temple into an inner and outer court. All Main buildings lie along a north-south axis. The most magnificent buildings are The Earthly Mound Altar (Yuanqiutan), which is the main altar, The Imperial Vault of Heaven (Huangqiongyu), which is a single-gabled circular building, and the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest (Qiniandian), which was used by the emperor to pray for a good harvest. These three structures, which are aligned on a north-south axis, are connected by a raised marble causeway 360 meters long known as the Bridge of Vermilion Steps, or the Sacred Way.

The southernmost structure in the temple complex was the most spiritually important in the days of the emperor: the Main Altar. It consists of three marble terraces, surrounded by two walls, one square, symbolizing earth, and the inner one round, representing heaven. The altar was rebuilt in the 18th century on the orders of the Emperor Qianlong. The structure was built to careful numerological principles around the heavenly numbers 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9.

It was here that the Emperor communicated with Heaven at the winter solstice in an intricate ritual divided into nine passages, each with its assigned choreography and music. It began at midnight with the lighting of the lamps, and culminated a day later at dawn with the emperor's prayers to Heaven at the Round Altar, and the burnt offering of a whole bullock. music.

Note too that the Temple of Heaven is one of Beijing's nicest parks, and is well worth a visit just for the color and tranquility it provides.



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