The Temple of Heaven, a UNESCO world heritage site, was built by the Ming Emperors of China. This Taoist temple is an architectural wonder and was built near the Forbidden City in modern day Beijing. In ancient times the Ming Emperors used to leave the Forbidden City twice a year and visit the Temple of Heaven to offer prayers for a better harvest. The temple had its role during the world wars when it was turned into a base camp for the allied forces. Today the park around the Temple of Heaven serves as a great place for exercising for thousands of Beijing residents every morning!
An early morning visit is recommended, as the Temple Complex is buzzing with activity. Residents of Beijing flock here to exercise, play games and instruments. A walk around the Cypress groves made up of more than 300 trees is really refreshing.You can reach the Temple of Heaven by taking the Beijing Subway Line5 and get off at Tiantan Dongmen station. Bus is the other option and the routes that take you here are 2, 6, 17, 34, 35, 110, 120, 122, 610, 707, 721 and 739.The Temple is open from 830am to 430 pm while the park is open from 6am to 8 pm.
The Temple of Heaven was constructed between 1406 and 1420 during the reign of the Ming Emperor Yongle. Its design is based on cosmology and numerology. The ancient Chinese believed that the numbers 3 and 9 were lucky and hence the design and layout of the Temple is basis these two digits. The circular altar is made up of slabs that are in multiples of 9. The columns of the Hall of Prayer are divided into 4 sections to represent the seasons, while the 12 inner columns stand for the months of the year. The three main sections of the Temple of Heaven are Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, Imperial Vault of Heaven and Circular Mound Altar.
The most striking building within this complex is the Hall of Prayer. It is built on 3 layers of marble with blue colored tiles making up the roof. The Altar of Prayer a marvel in carpentry with no use of nails. It’s a marvel in carpentry with no use of nails.
The Imperial Vault is where the tablets of the Emperor are kept. You will find the Echo Wall and the Triple Sound stone quite interesting. Remember to shout at the Echo Wall and you won’t be disappointed with the response you get back! A 360 meter long walkway connects you to the Hall of Prayer.
The Circular Mound Altar was the platform for the Emperor to pray. It is decorated in the form of Dragons. You can get to the Hall of Prayer from here through a red stairway bridge.
The emperor was considered to be the son of heaven and so an intermediary between Earth and the Heavens. It was forbidden for the commoners to look at the King’s procession from Forbidden City to the Temple of Heaven. They used to bolt their doors and remain silent indoors. The ceremonies had to be perfectly executed by the Emperor. Even a slight deviation from the prescribed procedures was considered a sacrilege and meant bad omen for the country and its people for the coming year.
In fact one bad omen was witnessed in 1889 when lightning struck the Hall Of Prayer and damaged it considerably. What was interesting was to note the official explanation for this catastrophe. The officials claimed this was divine punishment being meted out to an insolent caterpillar that was trying to sneak into the hall from the roof. Legend says that 32 courtiers were executed by the Emperor for this mishap!
You will find it interesting to recollect that one of the lesser achievements of Sir Isaac Newton was building a nail-less bridge in Queens College, Cambridge. He and the rest of the world at that time would not have known that the same principles were used to build the Hall of Prayer two hundred years earlier!
For a travelogue on the world's largest temple and the national treasure of Cambodia visit Angkor Wat.