The Temple of Heaven

Autqem Neter Sh. Nu Au Mu Samga History May 20, 2012 The Temple of Heaven The Temple of Heaven is located in the southern area of Beijing. Occupying an area of 273 hectares, it is three times the area of the Forbidden City. It was built in 1420 A. D. , for emperors to worship Heaven. The main buildings include the Altar or Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, Imperial Vault of Heaven and Circular Mound Altar. In 1998, the Temple of Heaven was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. Beginning in 2005, the Temple of Heaven underwent a 47 million Yuan (6 million USD) renovation that was completed on May 1st, 2006.

The Altar or Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, 38 meters tall and 30 meters in diameter, stands on a round foundation built with three tiers of marble stone. This large hall is under a three-story, cone-shaped glaze-tile roof in blue color crowned with a gilded knob. A circular wall of polished bricks known as the Echo Wall encloses the Imperial Vault of Heaven. The Circular Mount Altar, south to the Imperial Vault of Heaven, is where the emperor prayed to heaven. At the center lies a round stone called the Center of Heaven Stone that echoes when a visitor speaks loudly when standing on the stone.

The Temple of Heaven is enclosed with a long wall. The northern part within the wall is semicircular symbolizing the heavens and the southern part is square symbolizing the earth. The northern part is higher than the southern part. This design shows that the heaven is high and the earth is low and the design reflected an ancient Chinese thought of ‘The heaven is round and the earth is square. The Temple is divided by two enclosed walls into inner part and outer part. The main buildings of the Temple lie at the south and north ends of the middle axis line of the inner part.

The most magnificent buildings are The Circular Mound Altar (Yuanqiutan), Imperial Vault of Heaven (Huangqiongyu) and Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest (Qiniandian) from south to north. Also, there are some additional buildings like Three Echo Stones and Echo Wall. Almost all of the buildings are connected by a wide bridge called Vermilion Steps Bridge (Danbiqiao) or called Sacred Way. The Circular Altar has three terraces layered with white marble. During the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368 A. D. – 1911 A. D. ), the emperors would offer sacrifice to Heaven on the day of the Winter Solstice every year.

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This ceremony was to thank Heaven and hope everything would be good in the future. The picture below is of The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, a big palace with a round roof in three layers. Inside the Hall are 28 huge posts. Four posts along the inner circle represent four seasons-spring, summer, autumn and winter, 12 posts along the middle circle represent the 12 months; and 12 posts along the outer circle represent 12 Shichen (Shichen is a means of counting time in ancient China). The roof is covered with black, yellow and green colored glaze representing the heavens, the earth and everything on earth.

The Hall has a base named Altar for Grain Prayers which is made of three layers of white marble and has a height of six meters. The numbers 3 and 9, in particular, recur 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 occurrence in terms of beginning, middle and end. The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests was constructed relying only on carpentry, with no nails employed. This building was commissioned by Qing dynasty emperor Qian Long (reign: 1736-1795) in 1775.

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