Beijing Travel Guide

Temple of Heaven

 

Completed during the Ming dynasty, the Temple of Heaven, more correctly known as Tian Tan, is one of the largest temple complexes in China and a paradigm of Chinese architectural balance and symbolism. It was here that the emperor would make sacrifices and pray to heaven and his ancestors at the winter solstice. As the Son of Heaven, the emperor could intercede with the gods, represented by their spirit tablets, on behalf of his people and pray for a good harvest. Off-limits to the common people during the Ming and Qing dynasties, the Temple of Heaven is situated in a large and pleasant park that now attracts early morning practitioners of tai ji quan.

Temple of Heaven
     
Qinian Dian, where the emperor prayed for a good harvest Marble platform Caisson ceiling
Qinian Dian, where the emperor prayed for a good harvest
Marble platform
Three tiers of marble form a circle 300 ft (90 m) in diameter and 20 ft (6 m) high. The balusters on the upper tier are decorated with dragon carvings to signify the imperial nature of the structure.
Caisson ceiling
The splendid circular caisson ceiling has a gilded dragon and phoenix at its center. The hall is entirely built of wood without using a single nail.

Qinian Dian
Originally built in 1420, the Qinian Dian, or Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, is often incorrectly called the Temple of Heaven. There is in fact no single temple building as such at Tian Tan, a more literal translation of which is Altar of Heaven – referring to the whole complex.

The Tian Tan Complex
The main parts of the temple complex are all connected on the favored north-south axis by the Red Step Bridge (an elevated pathway) to form the focal point of the park. The Round Altar is made up of concentric rings of stone slabs in multiples of nine, the most auspicious number. The circular Echo Wall is famed for its supposed ability to carry a whisper from one side of the wall to the other.

     
The Round Altar, site of the emperor's sacrifice Imperial Vault of Heaven, store for the spirit tablets of the gods Triple gates for emperor (east), officials (west) and gods (center)
The Round Altar, site of the emperor's sacrifice Imperial Vault of Heaven, store for the spirit tablets of the gods Triple gates for emperor (east), officials (west) and gods (center)

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