Beijing Day 12: Temple of Heaven


My last full day in Beijing is dedicated to the Temple of Heaven which is a complex of religious buildings at the southeastern part of central Beijing. The complex occupies an area of 2.7 square km; larger than the Forbidden City. It was a place where the emperor (son of heaven) gave thanks to heaven and prayed for good harvest for the following year.

The Temple of Heaven was constructed from 1406 to 1420 during the Ming dynasty. It was inscribed as a UNESCO Heritage site in 1988.

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The park is opened to public in 1918. It becomes a popular place for people to gather for singing, exercising, socializing and past times.

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A corridor like those found in palaces with a colour scheme of blue to represent heaven.

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The most recognizable building in the complex is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. It is a circular building on a triple layered white marble terraces. This is where the emperor would offer sacrifice to the heaven on Winter Solstice.

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The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests has round roof with three layers of eaves. The circular roof symbolizes the sky and blue represents the color of heaven. The building is built completely in wood without the use of any nails. The original building was burned down by a fire caused by lightning in 1889 and it was re-built several years later.

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The three layers of white marble base of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest is six meters tall and is named Altar for Grain Prayers.

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The interior of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest has four posts along the inner circle which represents the four seasons. There are 12 posts along the middle circle which represent the months and 12 posts along the outer circle which represent 12 shichen (in ancient China, a day is divided into 12 shichens where one shichens is two hours in present days).

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Before the emperor performed the ceremony at the winter solstice, he stayed in the Palace of Abstinent located to the left of the Sacred Way. The palace is surrounded by moat for protection from assassination since the emperor is out from the Forbidden City.

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The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest is connected to the Imperial Vault of Heaven on the south (both buildings sit on the north south axis) via the Sacred Way. The Scared Way is also known as the Vermilion Steps Bridge because this pathway is higher on the north end. The emperors in the past believed that this is the way to heaven. The emperors will walk on the Yu Route while princes and high officials will walk on the Wang Route on either side of the Sacred Way.

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The Triple Gate outside the Imperial Vault of Heaven. East gate for the emperor, west gate for the officials and the center gate for gods.

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The Imperial Vault of Heaven is in a smaller scale of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest.

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It is where memorial tablets of God are kept. The Imperial Vault of Heaven is surrounded by a circular wall known as Echo Wall  where a person at one end of the wall can hear another person’s from the other end of the wall.

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Further south of the Imperial Vault of Heaven is the Circular Mount Altar. This is the actual place where the emperors prayed for good harvest. It is a circular platform on three levels of marble stones carved with dragons. The outer square compound represents earth. The inner circular platform represents heaven.

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In the middle of the circular platform is a round slate called the Heart of Heaven. This is where the emperors prayed for good harvest. The Heart of Heaven is surrounded by a ring of 9 plates, follow by 18 plates on the next ring, up to 81 plates at the last ring (9th). The number nine represent the emperor.

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A place where offerings were burned, perhaps.

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Intricate carved bronze burners used in ceremonies.

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View from the Circular Mound Altar.

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We bought a couple of the shuttle cork kicking toys for our boys to try out in summer. There were people selling various toys in the park.

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Another featured item in the park is a cypress tree planted more than 500 years ago. It is named the Nine-Dragon Cypress for its branches which look like nine dragons wind with each other.

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