Temple of Heaven: The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests

If you ever go to Beijing, one of the places you’ll want to visit is the Temple of Heaven. It’s a 15-minute drive south of the Forbidden City and close to several other areas of interest. We did a circuit where we visited the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and then the Temple of Heaven in one day and felt like we were able to enjoy ourselves at each one without feeling rushed.

The Temple of Heaven began construction in 1406 and was completed in 1420, just 4 years before the Yongle Emperor died. The complex is made up of two sections, the inner section and the outer section, covering 660 acres. The outer section is a lovely series of garden paths while the inner section is broken up into several smaller sections: the Abstinence Palace, the Echo Wall, the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests and the Circular Mound Alter. Today’s post is going to be about the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests.

There are several ways to get into the Temple of Heaven complex. We went in the entrance by the North Heavenly Gate and after a short walk down a tree-lined path and through a beautifully ornate gate we came to the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests.

The Temple of Heaven is a 15th century Chinese religious site in Beijing, China, that was used during the Ming and Qing dynasties for ceremonial harvest prayers. In 1998 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Temple of Heaven is a 15th century Chinese religious site in Beijing, China, that was used during the Ming and Qing dynasties for ceremonial harvest prayers. In 1998 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Temple of Heaven is a 15th century Chinese religious site in Beijing, China, that was used during the Ming and Qing dynasties for ceremonial harvest prayers. In 1998 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Temple of Heaven is a 15th century Chinese religious site in Beijing, China, that was used during the Ming and Qing dynasties for ceremonial harvest prayers. In 1998 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is a triple-gabled circular building, 118 feet in diameter and 125 feet tall. It stands on a three level marble base and is where the Emperor prayed for good harvests. One of the interesting features of this building is that it was built entirely out of wood, but used no nails. The original building was burned down after being struck by lightning in 1889 and the current building was re-built several years later using the same design.

This is the building where the Emperor would come to offer prayers of thanks for the bounty of the current year’s harvest and to pray for a good harvest during the upcoming season.

The Temple of Heaven is a 15th century Chinese religious site in Beijing, China, that was used during the Ming and Qing dynasties for ceremonial harvest prayers. In 1998 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The symbolism of the building is very profound. In Chinese culture, the circle represents heaven and the square represents earth. If you look at the building, both are represented in the design and ornamentation. The interior of the building has four inner, twelve middle and twelve outer pillars, representing the four seasons, twelve months and twelve traditional Chinese hours respectively. Combined together, the twelve middle and twelve outer pillars represent the traditional solar term. The outside, well, the outside is just magnificent.

One of the things I really loved about this building was the roof. Various aspects of Chinese culture are represented in the artwork carved into the panels. Doesn’t it look amazing?

The Temple of Heaven is a 15th century Chinese religious site in Beijing, China, that was used during the Ming and Qing dynasties for ceremonial harvest prayers. In 1998 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Temple of Heaven is a 15th century Chinese religious site in Beijing, China, that was used during the Ming and Qing dynasties for ceremonial harvest prayers. In 1998 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The blue tiles of the roof are representative of Heaven.

The Temple of Heaven is a 15th century Chinese religious site in Beijing, China, that was used during the Ming and Qing dynasties for ceremonial harvest prayers. In 1998 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Temple of Heaven is a 15th century Chinese religious site in Beijing, China, that was used during the Ming and Qing dynasties for ceremonial harvest prayers. In 1998 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The dragon is the ultimate symbol of power in Chinese culture and is thus associated with Heaven and the Emperor.

The Temple of Heaven is a 15th century Chinese religious site in Beijing, China, that was used during the Ming and Qing dynasties for ceremonial harvest prayers. In 1998 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Temple of Heaven is a 15th century Chinese religious site in Beijing, China, that was used during the Ming and Qing dynasties for ceremonial harvest prayers. In 1998 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

While I was wandering around, I noticed these little girls across the courtyard having so much fun. It was hilarious to sit there and watch them run up the stairs, slide down and then run up again. They were pretty cute.

The Temple of Heaven is a 15th century Chinese religious site in Beijing, China, that was used during the Ming and Qing dynasties for ceremonial harvest prayers. In 1998 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

While it may look like the steps leading up to the top platform are a lot, they’re really not that many. The three-level marble terrace of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests has four sets of double stairways of which there are 9 steps per leve. The stairways facing north and south are decorated with stone bas-reliefs symbolizing dragons and phoenixes presenting prophetic tokens. The balustrade pillars and water spouts on each tier are similarly decorated.

The Temple of Heaven is a 15th century Chinese religious site in Beijing, China, that was used during the Ming and Qing dynasties for ceremonial harvest prayers. In 1998 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Temple of Heaven is a 15th century Chinese religious site in Beijing, China, that was used during the Ming and Qing dynasties for ceremonial harvest prayers. In 1998 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Two Dragons over Mountains and Seas

The Temple of Heaven is a 15th century Chinese religious site in Beijing, China, that was used during the Ming and Qing dynasties for ceremonial harvest prayers. In 1998 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Two Phoenixes over Mountains and Seas

The Temple of Heaven is a 15th century Chinese religious site in Beijing, China, that was used during the Ming and Qing dynasties for ceremonial harvest prayers. In 1998 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Auspicious Clouds over Mountains and Seas

There was also a neat little exhibition hall on the grounds that says the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is the largest round wooden ancient building in China and explains how the numeric logic of the design is identical to the time concept of the Chinese lunar calendar. It’s really neat to see how exquisitely the craftsmanship is in sync with the religious ideology of the Chinese culture.

The Temple of Heaven is a 15th century Chinese religious site in Beijing, China, that was used during the Ming and Qing dynasties for ceremonial harvest prayers. In 1998 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

And then there were the scale-model replicas of different buildings around the complex. Aren’t these neat!

The Temple of Heaven is a 15th century Chinese religious site in Beijing, China, that was used during the Ming and Qing dynasties for ceremonial harvest prayers. In 1998 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Temple of Heaven is a 15th century Chinese religious site in Beijing, China, that was used during the Ming and Qing dynasties for ceremonial harvest prayers. In 1998 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Temple of Heaven is a 15th century Chinese religious site in Beijing, China, that was used during the Ming and Qing dynasties for ceremonial harvest prayers. In 1998 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We were all so fascinated by the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests that we spent almost an hour at this section alone. All the marble carvings and decorative woodwork of the tiered roofs were just magnificent. Before we left and moved on to the next section of the complex, we stopped in the Imperial Hall of Heaven, which  was where the tablets of the Emperor’s ancestors were housed. The Emperor would come here the day before the prayer ceremony to burn incense and perform rituals before the tablets were moved to the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests.

The Temple of Heaven is a 15th century Chinese religious site in Beijing, China, that was used during the Ming and Qing dynasties for ceremonial harvest prayers. In 1998 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Temple of Heaven is a 15th century Chinese religious site in Beijing, China, that was used during the Ming and Qing dynasties for ceremonial harvest prayers. In 1998 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

And, of course, our trip wouldn’t have been complete without having a photo of us in front of the Hall.

The Temple of Heaven is a 15th century Chinese religious site in Beijing, China, that was used during the Ming and Qing dynasties for ceremonial harvest prayers. In 1998 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Check back on Sunday for more about our trip around the Temple of Heaven!

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11 Replies to “Temple of Heaven: The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests”

  1. Nancy

    I have never been to Beijing although I would love to go some day since I love to travel as well. The Temple of Heaven looks really beautiful there with all the wonderful pathways lined with trees. I love how detailed the designs are and how bright the colors are. It’s interesting about the numbers and how they used those in designing the structure. I love learning new things.

    Reply
  2. Esme Sy

    It must have been an exciting experience to explore the Temple of Heaven. The architecture is amazing and I can imagine the time spent to construct the temple and do all those embellishments. I visited China before, but I didn’t get to see Beijing. I should plan to come back and see this beautiful temple for myself.

    Reply
  3. MrsTee

    Absolutely breathtaking. THIS is why I want to travel so badly. To see how history and culture is represented in so many different ways. I love how every detail has meaning and thought behind it. Nothing was done without purpose. The photos are amazing. Thank you so much for sharing.

    Reply
  4. Reginia Cordell

    My cousin and I am looking to go to Beijing in the spring. I hadn’t ever heard of the The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest; the Great Wall always tops the tourist’s bucket list. Numeric logic that lies with Chinese culture is quite fascinating. I didn’t know about the square versus round either. Hopefully, I can explore more when we visit next spring.

    Reply
  5. Maurene C.

    It is really great to see these historical places alive in our time. I want to see more of these. It just goes to prove how people of old times are really resourceful.

    Reply
  6. Dia

    The Hall of prayers is such a beautiful place. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I love that you are giving those of us to see the world through your eyes. The two dragons over the mountain and sea have to be my favorite and I love the detail in the picture.

    Reply
  7. Rochkirstin Santos

    I will definitely check out Temple of Heaven when we fly to Beijing. I am Chinese but I have never been to Beijing, that part in China. Your photos are so wonderful and clear enough for me to imagine myself already standing by the temple building. The design looked so intricate. Wow!

    Reply
  8. ascendingbutterfly

    I have always wanted to visit Beijing. I have seen so many photos of the Temple of Heaven online, great that it’s only a 15-minute drive south of the Forbidden City. I would like to visit the hall of prayer for good harvest as well since my first name, Tracy is Gaelic and translates to ‘the harvester’, seems like an auspicious place for me to be! Thanks for sharing your journey and your beautiful photos!

    Tracy @ Ascending Butterfly

    Reply
  9. Christina Bhattacharya

    I have never been to Beijing but it looks absolutely beautiful. I love your review and pictures on the Temple of Heaven. The intricacies of the art in the temple are absolutely stunning. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  10. Pingback: Temple of Heaven: Circular Mound Altar

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