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Temple of Heaven

The largest ancient sacrificial complex in China


Last updated: by Eleonora Provozin
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Temple of Heaven was where emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties held the ceremonies to worship Heaven and Earth and pray for good grain harvest. The regular worship practice is known to be originated back in about 2,000 BC in the Xia Dynasty. As Chinese emperors called themselves the Sons of Heaven and they immensely adored heaven and earth, the worship played a significant role in royal life.

The Temple of Heaven is famous for the geometric layout, unique structures, and brilliant decorations. UNESCO listed it as the world heritage site in 1998. It occupies an area of 270 hectares (667 acres), which is divided by an inner temple and an outer temple. One of the key architectural elements is the inner temple, which is composed of two parts—south and north. The Circular Mound Altar (Huanqiu Tan) and the Imperial Vault of Heaven (Huangqiong Yu) are located in the south while the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests (Qinian Dian) and the Hall of Imperial Zenith (Huangqian Dian) are in the north. The Red Stairway Bridge (Danbi Qiao) connects the two parts into a whole. The outer temple encircles the inner one and is surrounded by ancient cypresses, which makes the entire temple look more magnificent.

The structure of the Temple of Heaven also reflects the Yin and Yang theory, which reflects the harmony of the universe. As ancient people believed the sky was orbicular and the earth was rectangular, the southern wall in the temple was designed in a circular shape while the northern one became rectangular. Some constructions take advantage of the acoustics, such as Echo Wall and three-tone stone. These forms all show the advanced level of Chinese ancient architecture crafts.

Spring and autumn are the best time to visit the Temple of Heaven as the temperature during this time in Beijing is the most pleasant. Winters tend to be cold, but at this time of the year you are more likely to enjoy some solitude and to hear the echoes of the temple. In summer, opening hours are longer. If you visit it in the morning at about 7 am, especially on Sunday, you could see the local people practicing tai chi, singing, and playing chess. Later in the morning, visitor crowds start congesting the entrance, and the atmosphere is not as appealing as during the early morning hours.

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