The Temple of Heaven (天坛) is one of Beijing’s most visited sites. It is a giant complex on which many prayer halls form the area where the Qing and Ming emperors would make their annual walk from the Forbidden City to make offerings for a bountiful coming year. Built in 1406, the area’s many building and pathways are all designed to worship, as the name implies, heaven. Everything here has a purpose – the color, the number, and the shape were not arbitrary decisions, but instead are deep-seated reflections of ancient Chinese culture that still influences life today.
For example, the number nine is a royal number representing the emperor. Marble slabs in multiples of nine can be found throughout the area. Also, the shape of a square represents the Earth while heaven is a circle. The main architectural sites are squares upon rounded mounds, and then the actual temples are again circles on top of squares. The duality of heaven and Earth is underscored throughout the grounds in subtle, yet striking ways.
I usually like writing longer pieces here, but I think the pictures and their captions are actually better. I apologize for the long delay in posting. Expect new posts soon!
Starting the day off with a hearty breakfast
I took the subway to the Temple of Heaven and I wasn't really sure what side to enter from. Apparently, I came in through the "less awesome" side, the East Gate.
The park is huge
Elderly people gamble for money in the Long Corridor, a series of 72 interconnected rooms which symbolized the 72 earthly fiends. Sacrificial animals had were kept here as they had to be at least 200 paces away from the altar, the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. At midnight of day of the sacrifice, they are led out of their bays.
An old man uses water and a brush to create temporary messages on the floor.
The detail of the roof - it's hard to imagine that when this entire complex was used by the Ming and the Qing dynasties, no nails were uses for any of the construction!
People playing dominoes in the Long Corridor
These people were literally screaming as they threw down cards
Another shot of the large open spaces. People practices tai chi in the distance.
The main attraction, the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. Getting closer...
Ah, here it is. Every year during the winter solstice, the Ming and Qing dynasty emperors visited this hall to offer their sacrifices to the heavens.
Odd little urn thing
The inside of the Hall where the emperor would, as the name suggests, pray for good harvests in the upcoming year.
Me in front of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. Built in 1406, the Hall is over 12 stories high and sits upon 3 marble bases. Everything here has specific reason why it is included - its number, position, and color reflect the culture of ancient China.
Panorama shot. Click for larger image.
This door is called the 70 Year Old Door. During the annual commute from the Forbidden City to the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, this door was set up for the ailing Qianlong Emperor to shorten his path. In order to guarantee his successors wouldn't be lazy and continue to take the door, he decreed that one could only use it once they became a septuagenarian. He was the only person to use it.
One of the many buildings that directly surround the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests
Taichi in the park
Lady praying to...
...the Nine Dragons Juniper. This tree, rolled into what kind of/sort of/doesn't look like nine dragons, is also almost 1000 years old.
Chinese people decorate their masks, unlike in other Asian countries.
Playing with traditional streamers
Many of these trees were several hundred years old with some nearing 800
Another building that looks like the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. However, behind here is what is called the Echo Wall. People on opposite sides of the hall can hear each other if they both face the back wall, even if whispering. Perfect parabola!
The unattractive Circle Mound. Like the Echo Wall, the sound reflects perfectly when standing in the middle. Lavishly built with nine stone dragons, surrounded by multiples of nine stones, and and three marble stone levels, this was an important altar when it was built in 1530.
Asian tourist yelling in the middle of the Circle Mound
Man playing Chinese flute
Nearest subway station to the Temple of Heaven