30 September 2010. Beijing.
When touring China, prepare to have your feet abused from all that walking. On our fourth day in Beijing, we did a nine-hour walk of its largest attractions when it comes to ground area – The Temple of Heaven, with an area of about 2,700,000 square meters, and The Forbidden City, with an area of about 720,000 square meters.
The Temple of Heaven, according to my limited readings, is literally called the Altar of Heaven. It is a complex of Taoist buildings located at the southeastern part of central Beijing. This complex was visited by the Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties for annual ceremonies of prayer to the heavens for good harvest. The temple was built in 1420 A.D. during the Ming Dynasty as a venue for offerings of sacrifices. According to my readings, as the Emperors called themselves ‘Sons of Heaven’, they dared not build a dwelling as vast as the Temple of Heaven.
When we arrived at the Temple of Heaven, we got ourselves an automatic guide. The group designated me as the one who would operate it, and I ended up being the group’s tour guide, relating the history and significance of the buildings as we strolled along. The automatic guide also served as a map, and due to the sheer vastness of the place, and the limited time we had, we decided to just follow the straight path that led us to the three important structures of the Temple of Heaven.
Since we entered the north gate, the first building we visited was the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest. The Hall is an impressive triple-gabled circular building, built on three levels of marble stone base. This is where the Emperor prayed for good harvests.
The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest is linked to the Imperial Vault of Heaven by the Sacred Way or Vermilion Steps Bridge. There are other attractions to the right and left of the bridge and we thought we’d step to the right and view these attractions. However, the tickets we got for ourselves were good for the three important structures only; there was a separate fee for the other buildings. We just viewed them from a distance, and stuck to the straight line on the automatic guide.
The Imperial Vault of Heaven is like the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest in design, except that it’s smaller. It is a single-gabled circular building, with only one level of marble stone base. It is surrounded by a smooth circular wall called the Echo Wall that can transmit sounds over large distances.
The area surrounding the Imperial Vault of Heaven was alive with activities. Trees were likewise bountiful in the area, making it cool and refreshing. We left the invigorating environs, however, for the sweltering heat of the Circular Mound Altar. The altar is an empty circular platform on three levels of marble stones, each lavishly decorated. In the center of the altar is a round slate called the Heart of Heaven. It is said that when a person steps on this slate and whispers his prayers, his prayers will be heard by the heavens. There was no harm in trying…so we did. I prayed for a love I didn’t know I’ve lost.
Images of the Temple of Heaven: