EXTRA: The Temple of Heaven, Beijing

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on May 6, 2013.)

The mammoth Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests(祈年殿) at the Temple of Heaven (天坛), Beijing (北京)
July 14, 2011 - During my stay in Beijing, I was focused on my list of 142 key temples and had little time for more general sightseeing. But my patron insisted on my seeing the Temple of Heaven, so I spent a pleasant afternoon there.

The grounds cover nearly three square kilometers. Dating back to the early 15th century, it was used as a site for the Ming and Qing emperors to make sacrifices intended to produce a rich harvest for the country.

The Circular Mound Altar, located in the south, is where the primary ceremony was held on winter solstice. There is no building there, just a large round platform open to the sky. Parts of the structure, such as steps and railings, are built in multiples of nine, the imperial number. Special acoustics are also built-in so the emperor's voice would carry both to the listening courtiers and--presumably--to heaven.

North of this is the circular Imperial Vault of Heaven, which is connected by a sloping 360-meter walkway to the much larger Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. The latter is 26 meters in diameter and 38 meters high, and is built entirely of wood joinery with no metal in its original construction. This is the building most often seen in photographs of the complex.

Also on the grounds is the Abstinence Palace, where the emperor and his retinue resided without eating meat for the length of the ceremonies.

On my next trip to Beijing, I hope to take my wife along and see some of the more famous sights. Having seen the splendors of the Temple of Heaven, I'm sure the others will be spectacular.

GPS Info:
  • 39.88368, 116.41284



The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests at the Temple of Heaven, Beijing
The Imperial Vault of Heaven
The Circular Mound Altar was the ceremonial site in the temple
Another view of the Circular Mound Altar

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