THE TEMPLE OF HEAVEN

It was on Friday, 16 October 2009, when our tour group visited the Temple of Heaven (literally the Altar of Heaven). It is a complex of Taoist buildings situated in the southeastern part of central Beijing, in Xuanwu District. The complex was visited by the Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties for annual ceremonies of prayer to Heaven and to offer sacrifices and also pray for bumper harvests and favorable rain.

The temple complex was constructed from 1406 to 1420 during the reign of the Yongle Emperor, who was also responsible for the construction of the Forbidden City in Beijing. The complex was extended and renamed Temple of Heaven during the reign of the Jiajing Emperor in the 16th century. The Temple of Heaven was renovated in the 18th century under the Qianlong Emperor. Surrounded by double annular walls, the Temple of Heaven is divided into an inner part and an outer part. In 1914, Yuan Shih-kai, then President of the Republic of China, performed a Ming prayer ceremony at the temple, as part of an effort to have himself declared Emperor of China.

According to Xinhua, in early 2005, the Temple of Heaven underwent a 47 million yuan (5.9 million USD) restoration in preparation for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics and the restoration was completed on May 1st, 2006. The surrounding of the Temple of Heaven is also a very popular park for exercising and where you will find senior citizens dancing, playing cards, socializing, and just enjoying themselves. The Temple grounds covers an area of 273 hectares of parkland, and comprises the following three main groups of constructions, all built according to strict philosophical requirements:

1) HALL OF PRAYER FOR GOOD HARVESTS - is a magnificent triple-gabled circular building, 32 metres in diameter and 38 metres tall, built on three levels of marble stone base, where the Emperor prayed for good harvests. The building is completely wooden, with no nails.

2) IMPERIAL VAULT OF HEAVEN - is a single-gabled circular building, built on a single level of marble stone base. It is located south of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests and resembles it, but is smaller. It is surrounded by a smooth circular wall, the Echo Wall, that can transmit sounds over large distances. The Imperial Vault is connected to the Hall of Prayer by the Vermilion Steps Bridge, a 360 meter long raised walkway that slowly ascends from the Vault to the Hall of Prayer.

3) CIRCULAR MOUND ALTAR - is the altar proper, located south of the Imperial Vault of Heaven. It is an empty circular platform on three levels of marble stones, where the Emperor prayed for favorable weather. It was built in 1530 by the Jiajing Emperor and rebuilt in 1740.

To view the photographs I took during our visit to the Temple of Heaven, just click on the link shown below:

Temple of Heaven

The Temple of Heaven was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998 and was described as "a masterpiece of architecture and landscape design which simply and graphically illustrates a cosmogony of great importance for the evolution of one of the world's great civilizations..." as the "symbolic layout and design of the Temple of Heaven had a profound influence on architecture and planning in the Far East over many centuries."