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Temple of Heaven

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Beijing, China

Introduction to the Temple of Heaven

The magnificent and colorful Temple of Heaven (TianTan) was where emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties would make offerings to heaven and pray for good harvests.

The Temple of Heaven was constructed between 1406 and 1420 during the reign of Ming Emperor YongLe (reign: 1403-1424), who also oversaw the creation of the Forbidden City during the same period.

The Temple of Heaven was originally established as the Temple of Heaven and Earth, but was given its current name during the reign of Ming Emperor JiaJing (reign: 1522-1567), who built separate complexes for the earth, sun and moon. The Temple of Earth (DiTan) can be found in north Beijing. The temples of the sun and moon are in the east and west of Beijing.

The emperor's primary imperial palace (Forbidden City) lies not just in the center of the city, but also between the temples of earth and heaven, symbolising the role of the emperor connection to heavenly rule. One will notice the representation of heaven as round and the earth as square in the layout and design. One approaches the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests along a long raised walkway that almost imperceptibly increases in height.

At the winter solstice offerings were made to heaven. And in the spring, prayers for a good harvest. It was one of the emperor's most important tasks to choose the dates for sowing seeds and bringing in the harvest.

The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is a strikingly beautful building; round, three-tiered and with blue tiled roofs (as it is essentially a Taoist temple). It is 38 meters tall and sits on a three-tier marble terrace. The cleverly constructed building relies only on carpentry, with no nails employed. This design, what we see today, was commissioned by Qing dynasty emperor QianLong (reign: 1736-1795) in 1751.

You will notice the numbers 3 and 9, in particular, recurring in the layout and design; these are important or 'lucky' numbers in Chinese numerology. The number 9, being the highest value digit is associated with the emperor. Its square root, 3, has a natural resonance in terms of beginning, middle and end; introduction, development and conclusion.

In 1998, the Temple of Heaven was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

In early 2005, the Temple of Heaven underwent a 47 million yuan (6 million USD) renovation that was completed on May 1st, 2006.

The three main constructions of the Temple of Heaven lie on a central north-south axis and are surrounded by trees and gardens. Some of the trees here, mostly cypress, are many hundreds of years old. The gardens are alive with locals practicing tai chi, jian zi, wu shu, playing instruments, singing and dancing, board games, kite flying, badmington and more.

In summer, the park opens at 6 am and closes at 8 pm. However, the temple itself is open from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm. The nearest subway station is TianTan GongMen (line 5), which is next to the East Gate, close to the long corridor and the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests.

Videos of the Temple of Heaven

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Temple of Heaven

Architecture, Layout and Map

The Four Main Structures at the Temple of Heaven

The Altar to Heaven

Imperial Vault & Echo Wall

DanBi Bridge

Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests

Celestial Stones and Long Corridor

Fasting Palace

Double-Ring Pavilion

The Gardens

Historical Role

The Temple of Heaven Today

Architectural Details

Sunset at the Temple of Heaven

Temple of Heaven Videos
All our videos of the Temple of Heaven

Beijing Guide

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