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 Essential Architecture-  Peking

Temple of Heaven (World Heritage Site)




in southeastern urban Beijing, in Xuanwu District




Ming Dynasty


stone, wood


 Click below images for larger versions.
 Images thanks to R Todd King
The Temple of Heaven, literally the Altar of Heaven (pinyin: Tiantán; Manchu: Abkai mukdehun) is a complex of Taoist buildings situated in southeastern urban Beijing, in Xuanwu District. Construction of the complex began in 1420, and was thereafter visited by all subsequent Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties. It is regarded as a Taoist temple, although the worship of Heaven, especially by the reigning monarch of the day, pre-dates Taoism.

The Temple grounds covers 2.73 km˛ of parkland, and comprises three main groups of constructions, all built according to strict philosophical requirements:

The Earthly Mount is the altar proper. It is an empty platform on three levels of marble stones, where the Emperor prayed for favourable weather;
The House of Heavenly Lord, a single-gabled circular building, built on a single level of marble stone base, where the altars were housed when not in use;
The Hall of Annual Prayer, a magnificent triple-gabled circular building, built on three levels of marble stone base, where the Emperor prayed for good harvests.
In ancient China, the Emperor of China was regarded as the "Son of Heaven", who administered earthly matters on behalf of, and representing, heavenly authority. To be seen to be showing respect to the source of his authority, in the form of sacrifices to heaven, was extremely important. The temple was built for these ceremonies, mostly comprised of prayers for good harvests.

Each winter solstice the Emperor and all his retinue would move through the city to encamp within the complex, wearing special robes and abstaining from eating meat; there the Emperor would personally pray to Heaven for good harvests. The ceremony had to be perfectly completed; it was widely held that the smallest of mistakes would constitute a bad omen for the whole nation in the coming year.

Inside the Hall of Annual Prayer.The Temple of Heaven is the grandest of the four great temples located in Beijing. The other prominent temples include the Temple of Sun in the east, the Temple of Earth in the north (??), and the Temple of Moon in the west .

According to Xinhua, in early 2005, the Temple of Heaven underwent a 47 million yuan (5.9 million USD) face-lift in preparation for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics and the restoration was completed on May 1st, 2006.

The Temple of Heaven was registered on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1998.

Facts and figures
The Temple is surrounded by two cordons of walls; the outer wall has a taller, semi-circular northern end, representing Heaven, and a shorter, rectangular southern end, representing the Earth.
All the buildings within the Temple have special dark blue roof tiles, again representing the Heaven.
The Altar of Heaven was constructed with details representing the number nine, the representative number of the Emperor.
If you stand at the centre of the platform and clap your hands, you can hear the echo because of the concavity of the surrounding wall.
The House of Heavenly Lord is surrounded by a curved wall, 6 metres tall and 32.5 metres in radius. It is nicknamed the 'Echo Wall' because a person at one end of the wall can hear the voice of a person at the other end of the wall.
The Hall of Annual Prayer is 32 metres in diameter and 38 metres tall. It has four inner, twelve middle and twelve outer pillars, representing the four seasons, twelve months and twelve traditional Chinese hours respectively.
The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests was built without a single nail.
Some Chinese Christians consider the Temple of Heaven as a tribute to the Christian God, believing that the belief in Heaven to be an unarticulated reverence for the true God.