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Visiting Temple of Heaven in Beijing, China

Filed Under (Beijing, China, Cuisines, Shopping, Travelling, World Souvenirs) by Janet on 30-05-2008

Good morning Sunshine!! It was Dear’s & my 3rd day in Beijing since arriving 3 nights ago! We woke up extra early today cos we’ve had yet another long day ahead of us! As usual, we had our breakfast in the WESTERN RESTAURANT of Ai Hua Hotel where we were staying :

After breakfast, Dear & I were in our Chinese Driver Sifu’s car on our way to our very first destination of today – the Temple of Heaven (“Tiantan” in Chinese).

And no, no Sunshine today, but a rather cold misty pretty dull-looking morning as we arrived at the Temple of Heaven (“Tiantan” in Chinese), located in the Southern part of Beijing. But still, the weather did not dampen us a bit as we were feeling great as ever!

The Temple of Heaven was built in 1420 AD during the Ming Dynasty to offer sacrifices to Heaven. Occupying an area of 273 hectares, the Temple of Heaven is 3 times bigger than the Forbidden City, & smaller than the Summer Palace. As Chinese Emperors called themselves “Sons of Heaven”, they dared not build their own dwelling the “Forbidden City” much bigger than the Dwelling of Heaven – Tiantan.

The Ming & Qing Emperors came to the Temple of Heaven 4 times a year to offer sacrifices to the God of Earth, the God of Water, the God of Agriculture, the God of the Military, the God of Religion, & the God of Civilians. The Procession of thousands of Courtiers, Soldiers & Officials. together with the “Son of Heaven” would make its way from the Forbidden CIty through Tiananmen, South to Qianmen, & beyond the Southern Gates of the CIty, to the Temple of Heaven. And ordinary commoners were not allowed to watch or see the Procession.

In 1736-1795, the Temple of Heaven was renovated by Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty. And since 1912, the Temple of Heaven had been converted into a Park & commoners who had been banned from even watching the Emperor’s Procession passing through the City to the Temple of Heaven, were now able to to visit the Temple of Heaven!

In 1998, the Temple of Heaven was added to the List of UNESCO World Heritage List, & in early 2005, it underwent a 47 million Yuan renovation that was completed on 1 May, 2006.

The Temple of Heaven is enclosed with a long Wall. The Northern part of the wall is semicircular symbolizing the Heaven & the Southern part is Square symbolizing the Earth. The Northern part is higher than the Southern part showing that Heaven is High & Earth is Low, with the design reflecting that Heaven is Round & Earth is Square by the ancient Chinese!

The Temple of Heaven is also divided by 2 enclosed walls into Inner part & Outer part, where the main Buildings of the Temple lie at the South & North ends of the middle axis line of the Inner part.

Look at the many bicycles & pedicabs parked infront of the Temple of Heaven Gate!

Dear & I standing infront of the Gate to the Temple of Heaven!

Below is the Map of the Temple of Heaven (“Tiantan” in Chinese).

Entering the Temple of Heaven now! 

We were surprised to see the Park filled with tens & even hundreds of local residents (mostly seniors & younger ones as well) doing their morning exercises (that explained why the many bicycles & pedicabs parked outside!!). There were people playing Ball games, practising Tai Chi with Swords, kicking Chatek, practising Chinese Calligraphy writing using Water with Big brush on the grounds, slow Dancing etc etc! They were really exciting sights for Dear & I!

I’ve included below a Slideshow of all the photos taken of the locals working on their morning exercises – enjoy!


We really enjoyed the many interesting sights of the local elderly doing their exercises as we continued walking further into the Temple of Heaven!

Led by our tour guide Wang Jing, we soon arrived at the Gate Entrance to the Altar of Heaven (“YuanQiuTan” in Chinese or Circular Mould Altar), located at the Southern end of the Temple of Heaven.

The Circular Mound is an empty 3-tiered Round Terrace made of White marble each one edged with White marble balustrades. The bottom Terrace represents Hell, the middle Terrace represents the Mortal World, & the top Terrace represents Heaven. The Circular Mound Altar is encircled by a Round Inner Wall that represents Earth, & then encircled by another Square Outer Wall (called “Lingxing Gate” in Chinese) that represents Heaven - Both the Walls are painted Red topped with Blue Tiles. Built in 1530 & enlarged in 1740, The Circular Mound was where the Emperor prayed to Heaven.

After the Emperor signed the declaration that would be read to Heaven, he would proceed to the Terrace of the Circular Mound Altar. In the South east Corner of the Square Courtyard (outside the Inner Round Wall & inside the Square Outer Wall), Pine & Cypress branches were burned in the Green-tiled Oven to welcome the Gods of Heaven. To bid farewell to the Gods, human sacrifices were burned in the Oven. Next to the Oven is a special Pit called the Pit of Hair & Blood cos the hair & blood of the sacrificial victims were buried here!

In the Southwest corner, a platform to hold the Lantern Pole can be seen. This Pole was built in 1530, but its length has been changed several times.

The following is a Slideshow of the photos taken inside the Square Courtyard of the Circular Mound Altar.

Me standing inside the Outer Square Courtyard, & behind me are the Entry gates & Inner Round Wall beyond which stands the Circular Mound Altar.

Dear & I standing right infront of the Circular Mound Altar.

We’re about to walk up the Circular Mound Altar (or “YuanQiuTan” in Chinese).

Standing on the Circular Mound Altar now overlooking the bottom round & Outer Square Courtyard where we just came from.

Overlooking the tall Lantern Pole standing in the Square courtyard enclosed with the Square Outer Wall, from where we were standing, on the Circular Mound Altar.

Me standing on the marble Circular Mound Altar.

In the Centre of the top Terrace of the Circular Mound Altar is the Heaven’s Heart Stone (or Heavenly Centre Stone), surrounded by concentrically arranged flagstones. There’re 9 stones in the 1st circle, 18 in the 2nd & 27 in the 3rd. It continues in this manner up to the 9th circle, which has 81 stones. The middle & bottom Terraces also have 9 circles each. The total number of the marble flagstones on the surface is 3402, & each Terrace has 4 entrances, & a flight of 9 steps leading down in all directions. The total number of carved marble balustrades on these Terraces is 360, which is the muliples of 9 - It stands for the 360 circumference of Heaven.

The ancient Chinese considered numbers a mystical part of the Universe, & the number “9″ as the magical highest value digit. As an odd number, the number “9″ belongs to the “Yang” category (of the Ying & Yang Theory), which represents Strength & Masculinity. The number “1″ represented the Starting Point while the number “9″ represented Infinity & Extremity – thus the design & measurements of the Circular Mound Altar.

During each ceremony, the Shrine of God was placed on the Central Supreme Stone which is the Heaven’s Heart Stone (or Heavenly Centre Stone), which symbolized that God lived above the “Nine Heaven”.

Today, the Circular Mound Altar has withstood the test of time for nearly 500 years & stands perfectly preserved without any cracking or sagging!

We stood on the top Terrace of the Circular Mound Altar (where the Heavenly Centre Stone was) for a while looking at the beautiful serene views of the surrounding from up there before we made our way down from the opposite North end of the Circular Mound Altar staircase.

I’ve put the photos taken on the Top Terrace of the Circular Mound Altar (where the Heavenly Centre Stone was), as well as the photos showing us stepping down from the Circular Mound Altar in its opposite North end, in the following Slideshow :

Hahah, I really don know what I was doing here!! Showing off my Red Hair or what!?

Dear & I standing on the opposite Outer Square Courtyard where the Inner Round Walls & the Circular Mound Altar stand behind us.

Me depicting the ancient Emperor praying to the Gods of Heaven!!

From the Circular Mound Altar, we continued walking the opposite side towards the Northern end of the Temple of Heaven. Just like our tour guide Wang Jing said from the beginning of our tour of the Temple – that we “Bu Zhou Hui Tou Lu” in Mandarin meaning “We won’t walk back the same way as we came”.

The Temple of Heaven is set in Gardens & surrounded with historic Pine Woods – a Master piece of architectual & landscape designs. In its overall layout & individual buildings, it symbolizes the relationship between Earth & Heaven – the Human World & God’s World – which stands at the Heart of Chinese Cosmogony, & also the special role played by the Emperors within the relationship.

Set in stunning forest; line upon line of Chinese Cypress, Chinese JuniperScholar Trees, some of the ancient Cypress Trees are more than 600 years old! Walking through the beauiful Forest & Gardens, we again saw many local residents working on their morning exercises such as practising Tai Chi with the Chinese Fans, or just strolling around, or sitting on the benches people watching or chatting. It was really very fresh & cooling, & with the slight misty weather, it was truely relaxing & heavenly!

Once passing through the Forest & Gardens, we continued walking towards the Southern end of the Temple of Heaven via the “Red Stairway Bridge (or “DanbiQiao” in Chinese or the “Sacred Way” as the Emperors believed they could go to Heaven through this Bridge) – a 360 metres long Passage that leads directly to the Gate of Prayer for Good Harvest. The Passage is called a Bridge cos there’s a Crossing under the Bridge used by animals designated for sacrifices.

Representing the distance between Heaven & Earth, the Red Stairway Bridge is 29.4 metres wide, & it gradually increases in height from one end to the other, with the Southern end about 1 metre high (symbolizing Earth), &  the Northern end about 4 metres high (symbolizing Heaven) – denoting the progression from Earth to Heaven! 

There’re 3 parallel Paths on the Bridge – the Left Path was reserved for the Emperors, the Central Path for the God of Heave, & the Right Path was used by the Officials.

Near the Northern end of the Red Stairway Bridge is a 150 square metre Dressing Terrace where the Emperor used to change his Robes. Before the Ceremony to worship Heaven, a heavy Yellow-cloud curtain (or tent) would be pitched on the Terrace thus this Terrace is also called the Little Golden Palace or the Clothes-Changing Terrace. Within this tent was set up a Throne, incense burners, & other necessities for the Emperor. On the Ceremony day, the Emperor would first come here to wash his hands & change his Robes into blue Sacrificial clothes for the opening of the Ceremony. When the Ceremony was over, the Emperor would return here to change back his Robes & leave for his Imperial Palace the Forbidden City.

The following is a Slideshow of all the photos taken of us walking on the Red Stairway Bridge to the Northen end where the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest stands :

Dear & I standing infront of the Gate of Prayer for Good Harvest, in the far end. 

About to pass through the Gate of Prayer for Good Harvest. 

Built in 1420 based on a Model of the Temple of Heaven & Earth in Nanjing, the Temple of Heaven was originally called the Hall of Great Sacrifice. In 1530, the Temple of Earth was built in the Northern part of Beijing, thus only Heaven was worshipping here. in 1751, the Hall was restored & given its present name the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest. The Hall is a Cone-shaped structure with triple eaves. Originally, the eaves were painted in different colors – the top was Blue symbolizing Heaven, the middle was Yellow symbolizing the Emperor, & the bottom was Green to represent the Commoners. During the reign of Emperor Qianlong (1736-1795), all the eaves were painted Blue to follow the color of the Sky.

A 6-metre high, triple-tiered circular stone Terrace forms the base of the structure. In the past, the Hall or Prayer for Good Harvest was one of the highest in Beijing – 32 metres high & 30 metres in diametre. Despite its size, only 28 massive Wooden pillars support the entire structure!, joined by a number of wooden baths, laths & brackets, not using any steel or cement!


Dear & I standing infront of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest.

The Interior of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest is magnificently decorated & contains a large Ceremonial Throne facing South. There’re 4 large Pillars in the centre of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, known as the Dragon Well Pillars, with each Pillar (made from a single tree trunk) representing one of the 4 Seasons. The other 24 pillars are arranged in 2 circles surrounding the 4 Pillars – the 12 inner pillars representing the 12 months of the year & the 12 outer pillars represent the divisions of the day & night – 12 “ShiChens” (in Chinese) with 1 ShiChen equalling 2 hours thus a complete day was divided into 12 ShiChen, as according to the ancient Chinese!

The Ceiling framework is extremely intricate – the 1st or the lowest roof rests on a circular framework that is supported by the 24 outer pillars. The 2nd roof partially rests on the 12 inner pillars & partially the circle itself, which is supported by Crossbeams that are connected to the 4 Dragon Well Pillars. The 3rd & highest roof rests on the 4 Central Pillars, & on 8 shorter pillars that are built on the same circular framework. A Dragon is carved into the centre of the Ceiling & it represents Supreme Power & Royalty!

A round marble Stone called the Dragon & Phoenix Stone lies in the centre of the Hall – its name coming from the pattern of the stone which resembles a Dragon & Phoenix.

The Tablets of Heaven & the Tablets of dead Emperors are found on the platforms. The Tablets of Heaven are in the centre, & Silk fabrics, Jade carvings, Fruit wines & other items were placed infront of each Tablet as offerings. And at each ceremony, a pig, sheep or cow was sacrificed.

Rectangular blue-roofed buildings stand on either side of the Courtyard of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest. These buildings originally served as annexes. However, the West building is now a Souvenir Shop & the East building is an exhibition Room of all the musical instruments used in the past ceremonies.

Shortly after visiting the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest & its surrounding, we left the Temple of Heaven by walking towards its exit, walking through more Cypress Woods & Gardens where there were more local residents doing morning exercises, such as playing Ping Pong, Sword Tai Chi etc.

We left Tiantan – the Temple of Heaven, with light happy cheerful hearts cos it’s been a really relaxing morning walking through the cooling Cypress Woods & Gardens, watching the many groups of local elderly exercising & knowing they were at least not feeling bored & lonely, & understanding how the ancient Emperors worshipped Gods in the most sacred way. And it’s good to know that the Human sacrifices as offerings to Gods are no longer practised in today’s societies & religions – shall Peace be with all of us in the whole world!

I shall leave you now with my Souvenir Magnets bought at a Souvenirs Store inside the Temple of Heaven - Too bad I only managed to grab these in the midst of hurrying through our Temple tour.

Metallic Imperial Emperor’s Yellow Dragon Robe (“Long Pao” in Chinese) Souvenir Magnet. Do visit to find out more about the Symbols behind the Designs of the Long Pao!

Metallic Imperial Empress’s Phoenix Robe (“Feng Pao” in Chinese) Souvenir Magnet.

Metallic China Flag Souvenir Magnet – do visit to find out more about the Design of the Chinese Flag!

Metallic “Chairman Mao” Souvenir Magnet.

Metallic Beijing “YiHeYuan” (in Chinese or Summer Palace) Souvenir Magnet.

Metallic Beijing Fan with Ma Ma Pa Pa Baby Pandas Souvenir Magnet.

The following are Tiantan Souvenir Magnets which I purchased the night before at a Xinjiang Restaurant Souvenirs Store :

Dear’s Temple of Heaven (Tiantan) Olympics T-shirt which was bought later that night at Wangfujing Street.

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