Temple of Heaven

Providing all information on the famous attraction in Beijing-the Temple of Heaven.

The Temple of Heaven is situated in the southern part of the city in Chongwen district. As famous as the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace, it is a “must” for every visitor.

In ancient China, the emperor was regarded as the “Son of Heaven”, who administered matters on the earth on behalf of the heavenly authority. To show respect to the heaven, ceremonies for sacrifices to heaven were extremely important to the emperor. The temple was built for the worship of heaven and prayers for good harvests. A double wall encloses the temple.

The upper northern half is circular, representing Heaven and the southern half is square, representing the Earth, coincident with the Chinese saying of “Round Heaven and Square Earth”. The main buildings on the north-south axis are The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest with the Pavilion of Double Ring Longevity on the left clustered at the northern end are the Imperial Vaulted Heaven and the Circular Altar at the southern. A 2.5-meter-high, 360-meter-long causeway connects the two parts and is known as the Vermilion Steps Bridge or the Sacred Way. Four Heavenly gates were built on the cardinal points.

Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest

This triple-eaved wooden structure with glazed-tiles and coloured decorative patterns is the most attractive in the temple and is the symbol of Beijing. It stands 38 meters high and 30 meters in diameter on a triple-tiered circular terrace called Altar for Grain Prayer. The terrace is edged with marble balustrades carved with dragons, phoenixes and clouds. Without nails, cement or steel rods, the whole structure was fixed by wooden mortise and wooden brackets with the support of 12 pillars.

Astronomic and calendric episteme are usually employed in the Chinese traditional architecture. There are a total of 28 pillars, which represent 28 constellations. Four thick in the centre symbolize the four seasons of a year, while the inner 12 enclosed represent the 12 months and the outer 12 for two-hour intervals in a day. And the 24 altogether represent the 24 solar terms, of approximately 15 days each, into which the lunar year is divided. The system of the 24 lunar terms is quite important to farmers since it indicates weather changing at the time when it comes round.

The coffered ceiling of the hall is unique, carved in a design of dragons and phoenixes. This may remind visitors of a dome in western churches or Arabic mosques, but different in style and design.

The marble slab floor in the hall was engraved with dragon and phoenix. In the centre, there used to be a long table with screens behind on which the tablets of the Emperor’s ancestors were placed. With predominance of Confucianism, ancestor worship had also become an important feature. Therefore, tablets were enshrined in the Ancestral Temple as well as in the Temple of Heaven. On the left is a chair for the emperor to have rest.

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