The Temple of Heaven is an enormous complex in the world built in
the 15th Century during the Ming Dynasty
and expanded during the Qing Dynasty. Set in a tranquil park,
the temple complex covers 273 hectares. In 1998, it was designated a
UNESCO World Heritage site. Its most famous building is the
triple-roofed Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, which is often
mistakenly called the Temple of Heaven, a name which actually
applies to the whole park complex, including the main altar, which
was the most important structure in the temple.
Located in the southern part of the city, the temple was used by
Emperors from the Ming and Qing dynasties as an altar of worship.
During those times, it was believed that the emperor had a direct
relationship with heaven. The layout of the grounds and its
buildings symbolize the relationship between heaven and earth,
humans and the gods - in accord with Chinese cosmological laws.
Granite walls enclose the Temple of Heaven with the outer wall a
taller, semi-circular wall in the northern part, representing the
heaven, and the shorter, rectangular southern wall represents the
earth. This reflects the ancient Chinese belief that ''The heaven is
round and the earth is square.''
Two enclosed walls divide the Temple into an inner and outer court.
All Main buildings lie along a north-south axis. The most
magnificent buildings are The Earthly Mound Altar (Yuanqiutan),
which is the main altar, The Imperial Vault of Heaven (Huangqiongyu),
which is a single-gabled circular building, and the Hall of Prayer
for Good Harvest (Qiniandian), which was used by the emperor to pray
for a good harvest. These three structures, which are aligned on a
north-south axis, are connected by a raised marble causeway 360
meters long known as the Bridge of Vermilion Steps, or the Sacred
southernmost structure in the temple complex was the most
spiritually important in the days of the emperor: the Main Altar. It
consists of three marble terraces, surrounded by two walls, one
square, symbolizing earth, and the inner one round, representing
heaven. The altar was rebuilt in the 18th century on the orders of
the Emperor Qianlong. The structure was built to careful
numerological principles around the heavenly numbers 1, 3, 5, 7 and
was here that the Emperor communicated with Heaven at the winter
solstice in an intricate ritual divided into nine passages, each
with its assigned choreography and music. It began at midnight with
the lighting of the lamps, and culminated a day later at dawn with
the emperor's prayers to Heaven at the Round Altar, and the burnt
offering of a whole bullock. music.
Note too that the Temple of Heaven is one of Beijing's nicest parks,
and is well worth a visit just for the color and tranquility it
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