Beijing's Temple of Heaven is an architectural wonder. Originally built in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1911) as a place for the emperor to worship heaven, it underwent numerous reconstructions during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Great attention to detail was paid in the construction because the emperor, it was believed, was given his right to rule by heaven and due respect was needed to ensure his rule was successful. The quality of the construction materials and rare and precious objects equal that of the Forbidden City. Temple of Heaven is one of the most visited tourist sites on travelers' Beijing tours, and the symbol of the city. In 1998 the Temple of Heaven was added to UNESCO'S World Cultural Heritage list.
Situated in the southern part of Beijing City on the Imperial Road which bisected Dynastic Beijing, the Temple of Heaven occupies an area of 273 hectares. If you could look at the Temple of Heaven from the air, you would see that the southern part of the temple is square while the northern part is semicircular. It was built like this on purpose because according to Chinese tradition the earth is square and heaven is round. It is believed by some historians that this is the reason why ancient coins had square holes in them to symbolize that the money and the dynasty were smiled upon by heaven. The roof tiles in the Temple of Heaven are cobalt blue symbolizing heaven. It is rare to find blue roof tiles on an ancient structure.
The symbol of the Temple of Heaven is the magnificent Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest (Qinian Dian). It is this structure that most people are familiar with. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, the emperor would come to the Temple of Heaven every January. The emperors came to the Hall of Pray for Good Harvests to perform intricate rituals to ensure a good harvest for the whole nation. This tradition was kept up until the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911. The hall is the most spectacular building in the Temple of Heaven. Measuring 38m high and 32.7m in diameter, it was constructed without a single nail and has been standing for centuries. The 28 massive pillars inside are arranged to symbolize divisions of time: The central four represent the seasons, the next 12 represent the months of the year, and the outer 12 represent traditional divisions of a single day. The interior of the hall is brightly colored and covered with dragons and clouds. The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is the best-known building in the Temple of Heaven, but the temple has many magnificent buildings and temples inside it.
In the complex of the Temple of Heaven is a 273-hectare ancient forest made up of row upon row of ancient Chinese cypress trees. Some of the cypresses are more than 600 years old. The most famous one must be the Nine-Dragon Cypress, which lies on the west side of the Echo Wall. It has a history of nearly a thousand years. Wandering in the forest can make you forget the hustle and bustle of the surrounding city.
The Imperial Vault of Heaven is located directly north of the Circular Altar to store ceremonial stone tablets. The reason is to try the Echo Wall. The well-known Echo Wall surrounding the vault is 3.72 meters high and 65 meters in diameter. There, a person can face any point along the wall and speak, and another person on the other side can hear it clearly.
There are also many other sites in the Temple of Heaven, such as the Red Stairway Bridge, the Circular Mound Altar, and the Temple of Heaven Park. If your Beijing tour is not tight on schedule, you could spend an entire day exploring the temple. It truly is a masterpiece of architectural splendor. Even though it is in the middle of Beijing, the park is amazingly peaceful and quiet. Visitors find it easy to forget that they are in the middle of one of the world's greatest metropolises.
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