Saturday, October 19, 2013

Temple of Heaven 天壇 - Beijing

We visited the Temple of Heaven on our last day in Beijing. 
The Temple of Heaven was built from 1406 - 1420 and was visited by emperors from the Ming and Qing dynasties.  It is larger than the Forbidden City (the Emperor's residence) to show respect to the gods of heaven. 
In Chinese culture the square represented earth and the circle represented heaven.  So the temples (we only visited the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests) are round and each sits in a square courtyard - thus representing the uniting of heaven and earth. 
Originally only the emperors and their families (and guards) could enter the temples and surrounding gardens. 
In 1918 the grounds were opened to all Chinese and has since been made into a beautiful park.

Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests

The temple is constructed completely of wood with NO nails.
Inside there are a series of pillars - four on the inside, 12 pillars in the middle and another 12 pillars on the outside.  The four inner pillars represent the four seasons.  The 12 middle pillars represent the 12 months of the year and the outer 12 represent the Sichen - an ancient Chines unit of time equaling 2 hours (thus representing a 24 hour day).  The roof is made of three levels to signify getting closer to heaven.

A close-up of the inside showing some of the pillars. 
The painting and colors are amazing (the picture doesn't do it justice)
The Temple sits on top of three levels - again representing the ascent to heaven.

One of the carved staircases leading to the temple.
This is the top representing the heavens. 

 Imperial Hall of Heaven

Inside the Hall of Heaven, there are house-shaped shrines holding god tablets. On the first and fifth day of each lunar month, officials would sweep the dust and burn the incense there. The emperor would give a ritual there on the eve of the Ceremony of Worshipping Heaven.
The three gates to the hall

Inside the Hall

Other Buildings and Gardens

The pavilion to the inner gate - you can see the top of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests in the back.
(The whole complex is surrounded by a wall. 
Then an inner wall surrounds the temples limiting access to them to the Emperors only.)

Notice the carvings on the roof tiles and the intricate painted designs
(this building has not been restored - so much of the paint has faded.)

Many people come to the park for morning exercise.  These ladies stood on one leg like this for over 15 minutes.
 (Notice I did NOT join them - ha!)

We were lucky to see a couple getting their wedding photos. 
Red is the traditional color for Chinese wedding dresses.

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