Temple Of Heaven An Imperial Sacrificial Altar

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Temple Of Heaven An Imperial Sacrificial Altar


The magnificent Temple of Heaven (Tian Tan) is a perfect masterpiece of Chinese art and architecture. It is a worthwhile visiting place in Beijing.

The Temple was built in 1420 A.D. during the reign of Ming Emperor YongLe. The emperors of the Ming Dynasty used to offer sacrifices to Heaven and pray for good harvest. As Chinese emperors called themselves 'The Son of Heaven', they dared not to build their own dwelling, ‘Forbidden City' bigger than a dwelling for Heaven.

The Temple of Heaven was originally named as the Temple of Heaven and Earth, but later was presented with its current name during the reign of Ming Emperor JiaJing (1522-1567), who built separate complexes for the earth, sun and moon. Hence the other complexes, the Temple of Earth (DiTan), sun and moon are situated in the northern, eastern and western regions of Beijing respectively.

In the year 2005, the Temple of Heaven underwent a 47 million yuan (6 million USD) renovation that was completed on May 1st, 2006. In the year 1998, the Temple of Heaven was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List. The architecture of the Temple of Heaven is aesthetically done up on elaborate symbolism and numerology.

The buildings in the Temple of Heaven are round in structure and can be related to the Heaven (one can imagine the sky as like a rounded dome), while the foundations and axes of the complex are square (or 2 dimensional - that is, flat) which can be related to the earth. Whereas the buildings, walls and their settings reflect ancient Chinese religious beliefs that imagine heaven as round and earth as square. The altar and temple are round constructed within square shaped areas.

The golden yellow colour symbolizes the emperors in the temple whereas the green colour signifies Buddhism. The symbolism and numerology go hand-in- hand at the Temple of heaven. The symbolism at the Temple of Heaven was necessary because it served as the place where the emperor, as the 'Son of Heaven', directly entreated Heaven to provide a bountiful harvest throughout the land.

Coming to the design of the temple, the northern part of the park is semicircular (heaven) in shape while the southern part is square (earth). The two parts are enclosed with a long wall. The roofs of the important structures in the Temple of Heaven are tiled in blue, the colour symbolizing heaven and sky.

The fact that the northern part is higher than the southern part, this reflects that the heaven is high in importance than the earth as reflected in the Chinese thoughts that heaven is round and earth is square.

Three principle structures lie along the primary north-south axis of the Temple of Heaven complex are The Circular Mound Altar (Yuanqiutan), Imperial Vault of Heaven (Huangqiongyu) and Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest (Qiniandian). Also amongst the most magnificent buildings is the Three Echo Stones and Echo Wall. All buildings are connected by a wide bridge called Vermilion Steps Bridge (Danbiqiao) or even called Sacred Way.

The Altar of Heaven (YuanQiuTan)

The Altar of Heaven is situated at the southern end and consists of three layered terraces with white marble. The structure of the temple was constructed in 1530’s and was again rebuilt in 1740’s. The altar was used to worship heaven at the winter solstice and this ceremony was conducted to thank Heaven and pray for a good future.

The Imperial Vault of Heaven (HuangQiongYu)

Imperial Vault of Heaven is placed right in the centre and is constructed in the design of a blue umbrella with gold head. The structure and design of the Imperial Vault is the same as of Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, but is a little smaller in size. The Vault was used to place memorial tablets of Gods. White marble railings surround the vault. It is believed that the vault contained memorial tablets of the emperor's ancestors.

The Echo Wall

The Echo Wall is the most amazing aspect of the Temple of Heaven. It surrounds the Imperial Vault and is placed at a height of 3.7 meters. Three Echo Stones are placed outside the gate of the Imperial Vault of Heaven. If you speak facing the Vault while standing on the first stone, you will hear the echo on the other two stones.

The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests (QinianDian)

The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is situated at the northern end of the Temple of Heaven and is 38 meters high. The interiors of the hall are wonderfully done up and decorated and contains a large south facing ceremonial throne.

The Hall boasts of 28 tall pillars, each made from a single tree trunk. The four posts around the inner circle represent the four seasons. The 12 posts around the middle circle represent the 12 months. The 12 posts of the outer circle represent 12 ShiChen (in ancient China, Shichen is a means of counting time in ancient China and one Shichen in the past equaled two hours and a whole day was divided into 12 Shichens). One has to approach the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests along a 360 meter raised walkway: 'Vermillion Steps Bridge' (DanbiQiao). In doing so, one ascends almost imperceptibly, denoting progression from Earth to Heaven.

The Temple of Heaven thus is a dignified complex of fine buildings set in beautiful gardens. The layouts of the buildings in the temple complex symbolize the relationship between earth and heaven – the human world and God's world – which in turn depict Chinese customs, rites and beliefs.

Best time to visit

The best time to visit Beijing, is either during the spring (April and May) or during the autumn (September and October) - that’s when the weather is at its most bearable. The spring can be somewhat dry, though, so you might prefer going there in autumn.


The Hall of Prayer is 38 meters high and not a single nail was used in its construction!

In the Echo Wall, even a soft whisper spoken at one end can be heard clearly from the other end!


The temple remains open from 6:00 am to 10:00 pm.

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