The Temple of Heaven literal meaning being the Altar of Heaven is located in the south eastern part of the central Beijing in the Dongcheng district. It is a huge complex consisting of religious buildings. It is spread over an area of 2,700,000 square metres. Among all the ancient sacrificial buildings in
China it is one of the most representative and largest. This complex was visited by the Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties who conducted prayers to the heaven for good harvest. It is also regarded as a Taoist temple. The temple of Heaven symbolizes the relationship between the earth and the heaven that is the human world and the God’s world. And the grand architectural style of this place gives an insight into the practises of the ancient eastern civilization.
The complex was constructed from 1406 to 1420 in the reign of the Ming Emperor Yongle. He built the altar of Heaven and Earth along with the walls surrounding the garden. The central building was constructed which was a large rectangular shaped sacrificial hall where the sacrifices were offered to heaven and earth and a fasting palace was on the south west. Also pine trees were planted in the complex to emphasize on the relationship between humans and the nature. However, in the 16th century during the reign of Emperor Jiajing the Altar of Heaven was renamed as the Temple to Heaven. He also decided to offer separate sacrifices to the Heaven and the Earth and hence he built towards the south of the main hall the Circular Mound Altar to offer sacrifices to the Heaven. He also built the temples of earth, sun and moon in the north, east and west of the city respectively.
The large sacrificial hall was broken down and it was replaced by the round hall of Daxiang where prayers for abundant harvest were conducted. Later in the year 1749 during the reign of Qing Emperor Qianlong, the Circular Mound Altar was rebuilt and enlarged in size and the original blue-gazed tiles were replaced with white marble. Two years later renovation was done at the Hall of Daxiang and the new name was given to it as the Hall of Prayers for abundant harvests.
Further in the year of 1911 the Government of Republic of China banned all the ceremonies conducted at the Temple of Heaven. Before the ban the Temple of Heaven had witnessed 654 acts of worship to Heaven by almost 22 Emperors of the Qing and Ming dynasties. The government opened this temple as a public park in 1918 and since then it has remained so.
BUILDINGS AND LAYOUT
The Temple of Heaven comprises of three main groups of buildings being-
The Hall of Prayer for good harvests
This building is a magnificent big palace having a round roof and three layers of eaves. It is 38 meters tall and built on marble stone as a base. The building is made of wood. Here, the emperor held ceremonies to pray for good abundant harvest and a good weather. The original building was burned down by fire caused by lightning. This is a complex consisting of the Hall of prayer for Good Harvests and the Altar for Grain prayers.
The Circular Mound Altar
The Circular Mound Altar is situated in the southern part of the Temple of Heaven and is considered as the actual Temple of Heaven in practical sense as the emperors of Qing and Ming dynasties would offer their sacrifices here. The design of this altar is such that the prayer is reflected by the guardrail creating a significant resonance which helped to communicate with the heaven.
The Imperial Vault of Heaven
Towards the north of the Circular Mound is the imperial Vault of Heaven. It is surrounded by smooth circular wall called the Echo wall that helps to transmit the sound over a large distance. This place is mainly famous for the Echo wall, the three echo stones and the dialogue stone.
The Temple of Heaven is situated in the southern Dongcheng district previously a part of the Chongwen district. The park is open every day throughout the year. The timings of the park are from 6 am to 10 pm however the timings for certain scenic spots are different. From March 1 to June 30 it is from 8 am to 5:30 pm, July 1 to October 31 from 8 am to 6 pm and November 1 to February 28 from 8 am to 5 pm. There are four main gates to enter the park and all are accessible by public transport. The four gates being the east, west, north and south gate.
Today, in the Temple of Heaven there are about 60,000 trees. The most popular tree here is the grandfather tree which is 500 years old and it has branches that look like there are nine dragons winding with each other. These trees form a very peaceful environment and many locals come here to do their morning exercise. Also other activities like cycling, running, dancing, etc are carried on here in the park. You can also indulge in these activities when at the park with the locals there. Thus this is one place where you can learn a lot about the history of China.