In Beijing, to this day, there is only one temple dedicated to Heaven. This is the largest temple complex in China to date, it covers an area of 274 hectares, which is four times the area of the Winter Imperial Palace in the center of Peking.
It was built in 1420 to worship Heaven and Earth, but in 1520 a separate Temple of the Earth was built in the north of Beijing, and this temple was dedicated only to Heaven.
All the buildings on the territory of the temple complex are made either in the form of a square, or in the form of a circle, and are dedicated to the Earth (square) or the Sky (round). Such were the associations of the ancient Chinese.
For example, the "Hall of Abstinence" has a square form, and the "Temple of Prayer for the Harvest" and the main altar are round.
Four gates lead to the temple: northern, southern, eastern and western. The easiest way to get to the eastern gate, you can do it by metro, after reaching Tiantan Dongmen station on the 5th line of Beijing subway line.
But it is more interesting and logical to examine the temple of Heaven, having entered it from the southern gate, because it was through this gate that the emperor of China entered during the annual prayers for the harvest and prosperity of the country. You can feel yourself as the "Son of Heaven" (the so-called emperors of China) and follow it the way.
To get to the southern entrance from the east, you can take a bus, but it's easier to walk. It will take about 15-20 minutes along the wall of the temple of Heaven.
The emperor visited this temple complex twice a year, on the 15th day of the first lunar month and on the day of the winter solstice. The ceremony was carefully prepared until the script was developed and prayers were prepared, which differed slightly from year to year.
Another time the temple could be visited by the monarch in early summer to pray for good rains during the growing season.
The procession was sent from the Forbidden City to the temple of Heaven, and all residents were ordered to close the windows and doors. For foreign guests to see the ceremony was strictly prohibited, and it was better to just leave for a while from the city.
The procession consisted of the "Son of Heaven" itself, clothed in prayer clothes, members of the imperial family, officials and musicians. The emperor entered here through the southern gate and followed the "Hall of Temperance", where he fasted two days before the solemn ceremony to be cleansed before communion with Heaven.
Two days later, a solemn ceremony began. The emperor left the "Hall of Abstinence" to ring the bells, which did not stop until he came to the main round altar. On the main altar the victim was sacrificed, and after that all participants of this action directed their views to the sky, symbolically escorting the deity.
Interesting fact. In the history of China there was one such ceremony, which was not conducted by the emperor. This happened in 1914, when the monarchy was overthrown. The sacrifice was held by Yuan Chikan (pictured right) - the president of the recently proclaimed Chinese Republic.
In 1916, he proclaimed himself a new emperor, but the new Chinese empire under his rule lasted only 83 days. This event is not included in the official chronicles of the empire, and the last ruler of China is the last ruler of the Qing dynasty - Henry Pu I.
The main altar is surrounded around the perimeter by two walls. The outer wall is square, and the inner wall is round, and here we see the symbolism of Heaven and Earth. The altar itself consists of three round terraces with a diameter of 30, 50 and 70 meters. In the center is a sacrificial stone.
Very interesting plates around the stone, if you count them. In total there are 9 circles, in the first round you will count 9 plates, 18 in the second circle and so on up to the 9th circle, in which there are 81 plates. This "nine mania" is not surprising, the number 9 - is the number of the emperor in China.
If you go further to the north, then you will see the following structure, which is called "Heavenly Vault" (pictured left). It is a small round pavilion, but very beautiful. At the time of our visit to the temple of Heaven, tourists were not allowed inside, but one could see from afar. Here the monarch stopped on the way to the main structure of the temple complex for a short prayer.
Further north leads a 30-meter-wide road through which the procession passed to the main building of the temple complex, it is called the "sacred Danbikiao road". On it you will reach the "Temple of Prayer for the Harvest."
This building is of three levels, the round shape clearly indicates that it is dedicated to Heaven. The roof is covered with blue tiles, and the spire is topped with a ball with gilding (you already saw its photo, it is the very first in this article). It was in this building that the emperor brought prayers to Heaven, asking for a good harvest and to protect the empire from natural disasters.
Entrance to the tourists is prohibited, you can only look inside through the open doors. Inside the center you can see four large columns, which symbolize four seasons. It was in the center that the monarch prayed, standing on a special marble slab. During the sacred prayer, no one but the "Son of Heaven" was to be inside.
Around the "Temple of Prayer for the Harvest" are several other buildings. Some had purely economic purpose - they were kitchens, slaughterhouses and storage. Several pavilions were intended for worshiping the Moon, the Sun, Lightning and Thunder, the Stars, Wind and Rain. Now there are small museums in which you can find ceremonial items from the times of the last Qing dynasty.
To the southeast of the "Temple of Prayer for the Harvest" are the "stones of the 7 stars". On a small area, eight stones are collected. Perhaps you are a bit surprised at this discrepancy.
It is believed that these stones fell from the sky, that is, they are meteorites. Precisely this is not established, no one has conducted research.
Initially, the stones really were seven. The eighth stone was placed here at the beginning of the Qing dynasty, which were not Chinese by origin, but Manchus. They added the eighth stone, and the name remained. Seven stones symbolized the seven peaks of the Tien Shan mountains, the Manchus added the eighth stone, so they wanted to show that they are an integral part of China.
The park has a record number of old trees, about 4,000 of them were planted under the Ming emperors, they are more than 500 years old. The Temple of Heaven is not only interesting as a cultural landmark, it is also like a beautiful park for walking.
Have a nice walk in the sights, and read our articles about China ( links below ).