Built in 1694, in the 33rd year of Emperor Kangxi's reign, the Yonghe Lamasery was built to be the residence of Prince Yinzhen who was later crowned Emperor Yongzheng, the third emperor of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). After ascending the throne, Emperor Yongzheng moved into the Forbidden City, and renamed the palace Yonghe. After Emperor Yongzheng's death in 1735, his coffin was placed in the temple.
Emperor Qianlong, Yongzheng's successor, upgraded Yonghe Palace to an imperial palace. Its blue roof tiles were replaced by luminous yellow tiles. Only the emperor was allowed to have yellow roof tiles. In 1744 during the reign of Emperor Qianlong, the palace was converted into a lama temple (i.e. lamasery) and became a residence for large numbers of monks from Mongolia and Tibet. The Yonghe Lamasery eventually became an outpost of Tibetan-Mongolian Buddhism in Beijing.
As a must-do in your Beijing tours, the Yonghe Lamasery features both imperial splendor and religious holiness, which make it distinctive from other popular tourist highlights in Beijing. It is a magnificent Tibetan Buddhist complex, featuring five large halls and five courtyards with beautifully decorative archways, upturned eaves and carved details. The Yonghe Lamasery has an architectural pattern that integrates Han, Man, Tibetan, and Mongolian styles. Visitors entering the southern main gate and heading north will notice that the courtyards become smaller and smaller while the main buildings get bigger and bigger. The five main halls are Tianwangdian (Buddha's Warrior Hall), Yonghedian (Hall of Harmony and Peace), Yongyoudian (Hall of Everlasting Protection), Falundian (Hall of the Wheel of the Law) and Wanfuge (Pavilion of Eternal Happiness). The five halls house are treasure houses of Buddhist art, with each having magnificent statues of The Buddha, huge incense burners, tapestries, sculptured images of gods, as well as Tibetan-style murals.
Yonghedian (Hall of Harmony and Peace) is the main building of the whole complex. It used to be the place for the prince Yongzheng to receive ministers. Located in each courtyard of the Lamasery are exquisite incense burners. In front of the Yonghedian Lamasery, there is a strange-looking bronze sculpture with many coins around it. It is believed that if you can toss a coin up onto the top of the sculpture, you will have good luck.
Falundian (Hall of the Wheel of the Law) is a temple with built in the traditional Tibetan architectural style. The upturned eaves are exquisite and the focal point of the hall is a large bronze statue of the sitting Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Yellow sect of Buddhism.
The giant statue of The Buddha located in the Lamasery's the rearmost building, Wanfuge Hall (Pavilion of Eternal Happiness), is carved from a single trunk of white sandalwood. It is the largest statue of The Buddha in China. The statue was awarded the Guinness World Record in August of 1993. The statue is 18 meters high and 8 meters wide.
Another interesting sight in Yonghe Lamasery are the Prayer Wheels. A prayer wheel is a religious item used by believers of Tibetan Buddhism. Prayer Wheels are unique works of art. They are cylindrical in shape with exquisitely incised patterns on the surface. Buddhists turn prayer wheels in a clockwise direction. It is believed that turning the prayer wheel once is the same as having read the Buddhist Sutras.
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