Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Temple of Heaven

The Temple of Heaven is a massive park/temple complex that contains what is perhaps Beijing’s most beautiful building: the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. The park is very large and you will need several hours to walk it. It features a series of Taoist buildings and was visited by all of the Ming and Qing emperors. It is now a World Heritage Site.

Temple of HeavenThe Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is a round building with a blue-tiled roof (pictured at right). Qinian Dian, as it is known in Chinese, was completed in 1420 and is one of the best-known symbols of Chinese imperial architecture. The current structure was built in 1890, after the original was burnt to the ground after being hit by lightning.

It is 125 feet high and 98 feet in diameter—and does not contain a single nail. It is located in the northern end of the park.

Moving south, you come to the Imperial Vault of Heaven (Huang Qiong Yu), which is a smaller version of the above. It was built to store ceremonial tablets, and is surrounded by the Echo Wall. Unfortunately, there is now a railing in front of the wall, which makes testing it out difficult. (A Chinese tour group and the wind also made it near impossible to learn if there was actually an echo.)

Just beyond the Imperial Vault is the Circular Altar. This is a marble structure with three levels. It was completed in 1530, and in the past was where a bull was sacrificed and then set on fire to appease the gods.

Between the Circular Altar and Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests and off to the right if you are walking from north to south is the Hall of Abstinence. It is a bit removed from the main sights and a bit low key. It is surrounded by moats, and was where emperors fasted.

Access

The Temple of Heaven is about one mile south of Chong wen Men subway station. It took me 25-minutes in a strong wind to walk it from the station. Buses are also a possibility. From exit B, take #807 or #812 to Fahua Si. The easiest way is to take a cab, which should cost about 10-15 yuan.

Details

The park is open from 6 am – 9 pm (8 pm in winter). The sights however are only open from 8:30 – 4:30. Admission to the park costs 15 yuan. A ticket that will get you in the park and all of the sights costs 35 yuan.

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