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Beijing Temple of Heaven


Tian Tan (天坛), the Chinese name for the Temple of Heaven, literally means the Altar of Heaven. Most China tours that are taking in Beijing will also include a trip to the Temple of Heaven.

It’s primary function was as a temple that the reigning emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties would visit to pray for a good harvest that year. Although it is designated as a Daoist temple, the practice of heaven worship greatly predates Daoism in China and emperors would commonly pray for a good harvest during the Spring Festival.

The Temple of Heaven Was Constructed bythe Yongle Emperor “Zhu Di”

It was originally constructed during the reign of the Yongle Emperor “Zhu Di”, who was also responsible for the construction of the Forbidden City during his reign, at the beginning of the 15th Century. It was to be extended in the 16th Century during the reign of the Jiajing Emperor and it was at this time that the name of the complex was changed to the Temple of Heaven.

The Jiajing Emperor had it extended as part of a temple building program that saw the Temple of Heaven extended in the South of Beijing as well as the Temple of the Sun in the East, the Temple of the Moon in the West and the Temple of Earth in the North. The Temple of Heaven was to see one more restoration during the imperial epoch by the Qianlong Emperor in the 18th Century.

temple of heaven close up

One of China's most beautiful buildings

The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is Perhaps the Most Beautiful Building in China

The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests sits in the centre of the complex and is considered by many, including myself, to be the most beautiful building in China. It is a triple gabled circular building built on 3 levels of marble. Despite being made completely of wood, there are no nails used in its construction. This is where the Emperors would come to make sacrifices or prayers to the heavens in return for a good harvest. The ancient Chinese believed in the “divinity” of their Emperor. He was regarded as the Son of Heaven who was on Earth to directly control earthly matters.

Twice a year the Emperor and all his entourage would up camp from the Forbidden city and make their way to the complex. This procession was made to the complex unregarded by any normal Chinese whereupon the Emperor would be required to perform a secret ceremony. The procession and ceremony would have to be completed exactly for fear that the smallest of mistakes could lead to bad omens and a bad harvest for the year.

martial arts being practiced in the temple of heaven park

Martial arts being practiced in the Temple of Heaven park

Today The Temple of Heaven is a Major Tourist Attraction in Beijing

The park that surrounds the Temple of Heaven is a hive of activity, especially in the early mornings, with many of the local older generation using it for practicing Tai Chi Chuan or for ballroom dancing. For budding tourists and particularly photographers on tour in Beijing, it allows a wonderful opportunity to photograph a slice of real Beijing life and to see Chinese going about their daily lives. It is also fairly close to the wonderful Panjiayuan Antiques market and it’s well worth including the market as part of any tour to the Temple.

Article posted by Phil Stanley & Headseast: 19th March 2015

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