On a beautiful, sunny, blue sky day we visited Tiāntán, the Temple of Heaven. The temple is a prime example of Chinese religious architecture, this is where Emperors of the Qing and Ming dynasties performed annual ceremonies of prayer to Heaven for good harvest. The Construction began in the early 15th century under Yongle, who is known as the “architect of Beijing.” Shaped like a semicircle on the northern rim to represent heaven and square on the south for the earth, the grounds were once believed to be the meeting point of the two. So many Chinese believed for so long that this was the center of the world.
The area is double the size of the Forbidden City, but most of the it is covered by trees and gardens where people have access to by only paying 5RMB. But if you want to see the whole site it is recommended to buy the package entrance. We walked in through the East Gate which is near the Long Corridor. This area used to be the place where animal sacrifices were performed and lanterns were hung during such rituals. Now it is full of locals singing opera, playing cards, and chess. I was really surprised to see the amount of people, usually older, involved in these activities.It looks like they spend most of their afternoon playing games. There was actually a chess match going on, about 20 men were standing next to each other forming a circle around the players. I couldn’t get a close look to the game board but I managed to get a photo from the top.
The temple’s featured structure is a blue-roofed wooden tower, the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, built in 1420. It burned in 1889 and was immediately rebuilt. The middle section of the hall was reserved for the Emperor of Heaven, and he was the only one allowed to walked on the eastern side of it.
We then walked towards the south side of the Temple where the Imperial Vault of Heaven is. This is a very small area and the Vault is encircled by an echo wall, if you actually whisper in to the wall a person on the other side can hear you. This was actually really fun to do, we probably spent about 30 minutes in this area talking to each other through the wall.
Right behind the Imperial Vault of Heaven is the Circular Mound Altar. This is a white marble platform where the emperor would worshipped the winter solstice; it is based on the number nine. Nine used to regarded a a symbol of the power of the emperor, as is is the biggest single digit odd number, and odd numbers are considered masculine and therefore more powerful. Note: The chinese character for man is 男, which means power and strength.
We had a great time at the Temple, aside from the fact that it was really windy and my hands were freezing everything was ok. I love going to historical sites, not only because I learn more of Beijing but also about its culture and people. I only wish the weather was bit warmer and the air a bit cleaner. Even that won’t keep me from having a good time. There is still so much to see in Beijing!