The Temple of Heaven - 9/18/12

天坛

 

By Henry Doenlen

 

The Temple of Heaven is considered one of the must-see sites in Beijing. It is not as complex as the Forbidden City, and as grand as the Summer Palace. But it is beautiful in it's spacious layout, and interesting in it's information about their historic religious beliefs. The photos on this page can be clicked to see a the photo at original size. Wherever possible, there is a photo of the description provided for the specific place.

 

(1) East Gate & 72 Long Corridors

it was fairly crowded getting into subway line 5. At the Temple of Heaven, we paid 35, about $5, each for the combination ticket. We also rented a guide pad for 40, about $6, each. The pad had a little map of the Temple of Heaven with lights over each of the important places. When we were near a lighted place, we were given an explanation in English. Inside the gate, a short paved path lead to a beautiful covered walkway called the 72 Long Corridors. At a couple of places along the way, we saw groups of older men apparently gamboling with small wood board games and cards.

 

(2) Hall of Prayer for a Good Harvest  祈年殿

At the end of the the 72 Long Corridors, an open area paved with stone tile contained a circular raised area. At the center of the raised area, was the tall, round Hall of Prayer for a Good Harvest. Inside, there were steps that lead to what  could have contained a throne, as well as several tables holding metal vessels. Our guide tablet told us that each winter solstice, there was a religious ceremony to pray to the god of heaven and the ancestors to provide a good harvest for the coming year. The ceremony was done by the Emperor, who was considered a Son of Heaven. It was believed that all of the elements of the ceremony had to be done perfectly, because just one mistake could lead to a bad harvest. We also visited a small building to the north of the Hall of Prayer for a Good Harvest. The building must have been of some importance, considering the blue mythical figures that were on the edge of it's blue roof.  Inside that building were more tables with various metal vessels, so it could have been a preparation buidling.

 

(3) Imperial Vault of Heaven  皇穹宇

Leading south from the Hall of Prayer for a Good Harvest toward the Imperial Vault of Heaven was a wide path of stone tile. In the center was a narrow path of smooth concrete. Our guide tablet told use that only the Emperor was allowed to walk on this central path.  So I had to walk on the central path as well, momentarily pretending to be the Emperor.  The Imperial Vault was surrounded by a 10 foot circular wall, which was called the "Echo Wall."  I tried to see if an echo would carry, but this did not seem to be the case. There may have been too much interference in the sound waves by the people standing around.  Inside were several tables and a few metal vessels. This building apparently housed some items used in the ceremonies.

(4) Circular Mound Alter  圜丘坛

Walking further down the path was the Circular Mound Alter. In the middle of the was a slightly raised flat circular stone, which presumably was the alter where animals may have been sacrificed in the open under heaven.  Various visitors, including myself, stood on the circular stone to have our photo taken, perhaps imagining to be the sacrifice. We then walked back through the Temple of Heaven, leaving the East Gate and returning to the subway station.