The Temple of Heaven
A massive park and temple complex south of the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven served as a venue for emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties to honor the heavens and pray for good harvests. Construction took place between 1406 and 1420 in the reign of Emperor Yongle. The 2.7 kilometer temple complex is enclosed by two sets of walls which are circular at the northern end while the rest is square. This design, which follows the old Chinese belief that the heaven is round and the earth of square, is also embodied in the three principal structures of the complex, which are round with square bases. These three buildings are connected by the 360 meter long Danbi Bridge, also known as the Sacred Way.
Starting from the north, the first of the three north-south aligned structures is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. This mesmerizing 30 meter tall temple which stands atop a three-tiered marble terrace, is the Temple of Heaven’s signature structure and is an image that is famous world-wide. As the name suggests, this is where the emperors came to pray for good harvests. Made of wood, it was bound to burn down at one stage and, indeed, the inevitable happened in 1889. The present building is a faithful reconstruction that was raised the following year.
A little further to the south, the Imperial Vault of Heaven, is like a smaller version of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. Built in 1530, its function was to house stone tablets dedicated to the gods. Perhaps of more interest here is the Echo Wall that encloses the vault. Some 65 meters in diameter, the idea is that two people standing at opposite ends whispering can hear each other clearly. Unfortunately, the huge crowds testing this out are guaranteed to make all sounds inaudible.
Further to the south again is the Circular Mound Altar. It is an empty platform on top of a three-tiered white marble terrace. Here the emperors would hold a sacrificial ceremony annually on the winter solstice. The design is influenced by the heavenly number ‘9’, with the number of balustrades and stairs all multiples of this number. If you’re wondering while people are crowding around the center stone, it’s because any words said on this spot are supposed to resonate back strongly.
Admission: ¥35 (through ticket – park and buildings). Open: 6am-8pm (park); 8am-6pm (buildings).
Directions: Tiantandongmen subway station (Line 5) is right by the east gate of the Temple of Heaven Park.
Show the taxi driver: 请带我去天坛，谢谢。 (Please take me to the Temple of Heaven. Thank you.)