The Temple Of Heaven

Map of the Temple of Heaven Grounds

Introduction: The Temple of Heaven is located in the southeast part of Beijing. Emperor Yong Le(1403-1424) oversaw the construction of the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven, which was built between 1406 and 1420. It is the largest collection of ancient sacrificial buildings in the world. It was called the Temple of Heaven and Earth, but was given the name it is known by today during the reign of Emperor Jia Jing(1522-1567). The Temple of Heaven was built based on a complicated system of symbolism and numerology, reflecting ancient Chinese beliefs. The buildings are round, representing Heaven or the sky, and the foundations are square, symbolizing the earth. The northern border of the park is round while the southern is square, echoing the theme of earth and sky. The roofs are tiled in blue, another symbol of Heaven. There are three main structures of the Temple of Heaven: The Altar of Heaven, The Imperial Vault and Echo Wall, and the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. Ceremonies took place twice a year on the 15th day of the first lunar month and on the winter solstice respectively.

The Altar of Heaven

The Altar of Heaven: The Altar of Heaven is a white marble, three-tiered structure that rises from a square yard. The number of stones used in the tiers are all multiples of either three or nine. (The number nine represented the emperor.) During the ceremonies for which the altar was used, a throne would be placed in the center of the altar which was located in the middle of the kingdom. This spot was considered the center of the earth. This was where the emperor performed various sacrifices.
The Imperial Vault of Heaven

The Imperial Vault of Heaven: This building is tiled in blue, and is supported by 8 pillars around the perimeter, with no horizontal bars for support. In the center is a shrine where the tablet of the God of Heaven was placed. There are also two chambers that once house tablets dedicated to various Chinese gods.

The Echo Wall

The Echo Wall: The Echo Wall surrounds the Imperial Vault of Heaven. A speaker standing at one end of the wall can be heard clearly at the other, given that the courtyard is not too noisy. There are stones called Triple Echo Stones that return multiple echoes depeding on where the listener is standing.
The Hall of Prayers for Good Harvests

The Hall of Prayers for Good Harvests: Located at the north end of the Temple of Heaven is the three-tiered Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. The Hall is something of an architectural wonder. Not a
Interior of the Hall
single nail was used in its construction and inside are 28 pillars, each made from a single tree trunk. Surrounding an inner circle are four post, representing the four seasons. Around the middle circle are twelve posts representing the 12 months, and around the outer circle are twelve posts representing the 12 Shi Chen. (One Shi Chen is equal to two hours, making twelve Shi Chen a full day.) The interior of the hall is elaborately decorated and houses a ceremonial throne.

Purpose: Twice a year the emperor or "Son of Heaven" would lead a procession that included thousands of eunuchs and minsters from the Forbidden City to the Temple of Heaven. Citizens were not permitted to participate it, or even see the procession. Once they arrived at the temple, the emperor would fast for several days in the Hall of Abstinence. Afterwards, he would offer sacrifices to various gods, including the gods of agriculture, water, earth, religion, military and civilians. The emperor was responsible for bringing good fortune and plentiful harvests.

This is a reenactment of an ancient ceremony held at the Temple of Heaven:

Visitors at the Temple of Heaven
Temple of Heaven Today:
In 1918 the Temple of Heaven was opened to the public as a park. Citizens who were once prohibited from even witnessing the procession are now allowed to visit the Temple of Heaven for themselves. Early morning visitors are able to watch Tai Chi experts, and kite flyers, musicians, singers, dancers and participants of games like badminton and Chinese Chess are there throughout the day.