Why the Temple of Heaven is special
Located in the southeast of Beijing, the Temple of Heaven, first built in 1420 during the Ming Dynasty, and expanded or rebuilt by Emperors of Qing Dynasty, covers a total area of 2.73 million square meters. The area that it occupies is almost square, the two southern corners being right-angled and northern corners being rounded. This symbolizes the ancient Chinese belief that heaven is round and the earth square.
Temple of Heaven Highlights
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), the Imperial Vault of Heaven (Huangqiongyu) and the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest (Qiniandian) from south to north.
Circular Mound Altar
Being 360 meters long, 28 meters wide and 2.5 meters high, it connects the southern sector, known as the Circular Mound Altar, and the northern, the Altar of the God of Grain. It consists of three circular platforms of white marble, decreasing in diameter, surrounded by balustrades of the same material. It is the place where the emperors offered sacrifice to the Heaven, praying for rain.
The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest
The Hall of Prayers for Good Harvests is the most magnificent building at the Temple of Heaven. It is the place that the Emperors offered up prayers for good harvests. Three layers of roof are covered with deep blue glazed tiles to symbolize the color of the sky. It is supported on a massive wooden framework and its interior is richly decorated. Inside the Hall there are 28 huge posts. Inside the hall stand 28 pillar, among which the inner 4 stand for four seasons, the middle 12 for 12 months, the outer 12 for 12 Shichen (Shichen is a means of counting time in ancient China. One Shichen in the past equaled two hours and a whole day was divided into 12 Shichens).
Imperial Vault of Heaven
Another important building in Temple of Heaven is Imperial Vault of Heaven. The Imperial Vault of Heaven was used to house the tablet of the God of Heaven and the tablets of the emperors' ancestors. It was a circular structure, covered with blue titles and topped by a gilded ball. The building is 19.5 meters high and 15.6 meters in diameter and looks like an umbrella parachuting vertically from the sky. The whole structure is supported by 16 pillars, eight of which are posts propping the eaves and another eight inside are gilded one.
Three Echo Stones is outside of the gate of the Imperial Vault of Heaven. If you speak facing the Vault while standing on the first stone, you will hear one echo; standing on the second and then the third stone, you will hear two and three echoes respectively.
The entire enceinte is surrounded by remains of the ancient pine forest, which has been carefully maintained and where there have been new plantings to complete the symbolic link between humankind and nature.