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 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 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 blue tiles of the roof are representative of Heaven.
The dragon is the ultimate symbol of power in Chinese culture and is thus associated with Heaven and the Emperor.
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.
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.
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.
And then there were the scale-model replicas of different buildings around the complex. Aren’t these neat!
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.
And, of course, our trip wouldn’t have been complete without having a photo of us in front of the Hall.
Check back on Sunday for more about our trip around the Temple of Heaven!