Located in Beijing, the Temple of Heaven was where the ancient emperors of the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties came to hold heaven worshiping ceremonies. First built in the year 1420, it was rebuilt during the Qing period. The Temple of Heaven has inner and outer parts, with the main buildings located in the north and south ends of the inner part.
The most incredible sights are those of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, the Imperial Vault of Heaven, and the Circular Mound Altar. Besides these, there are other sights, including The Hall of Imperial Zenith, Danbi Bridge, Kitchen for Sacrifice, Palace of Abstinence, Divine Music Administration, and the Heaven Worship Culture. Now, let’s dive into some interesting facts about this ancient and sacred place.
- The Temple of Heaven, at 2.7 square meters (approx. 3.5 sq yds), is four times larger than the Forbidden City. The Chinese emperor was considered the “Son of Heaven,” and so they didn’t want their dwelling to be greater than that dedicated to Heaven. It’s also the single largest region for Heaven worship in the world.
- All major historical buildings and compounds in Beijing, like the Forbidden City, Bell Tower, and Tiananmen, are located on a central axis, but not the Temple of Heaven. According to the I Ching, or the Book of Changes, the southeast direction is where sunlight is available the most, so that’s where the Temple was built.
- All construction at Circular Mound Altar (located at the south end of the Temple of Heaven) counts up to the number nine or its multiple. On the first lap, the number of stone steps is 9, and on the second lap, it is 18. Even the number of marble tiles is a multiple of 9. According to the Chinese, nine is considered sacred as there are nine levels of Heaven. This is where the annual winter solstice ceremony was held. The mound has three layers representing Heaven, Earth, and the Underworld.
- There is a circular wall, Echo Wall, that surrounds the Imperial Vault of Heaven. It’s smooth and as the name implies, produces an echo effect. Stand on opposite sides with a friend and ask them to say something. Even when the volume is low, you will be able to hear their sound. The architecture and construction materials make this fun activity possible.
- Location for the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests was decided upon consultation with feng shui masters who claimed that this was the point where Heaven meets Earth. The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is built in a round shape, as the emperor wanted it to reflect the concept that Heaven was round. The base is square, signifying the shape of the ground in contrast to Heaven.
- The Danbi Bridge goes from the Circular Mound Altar to the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. This was the path taken by the emperors of old, and many people enjoy taking the same route. But there are three marble walkways. The emperors, respectful to the Heavens, humbly took the side path. They would walk on the right, while officials followed on the left side.
Ancient China was a land filled with deeply religious people. From the emperor to the common man, they respected the ways of Heaven and cultivated themselves to be worthy citizens. Their architecture, ways of life, and ceremonies reflect their belief systems and values. Over the long course of human history, many legacies have been left in almost all the villages, towns, and provinces of this ancient land.