“There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold
And she’s buying a stairway to heaven”
The Temple of Heaven that is.
Just like this epic eight-minute rock track, Beijing’s famous Temple of Heaven is a journey into the past, exploring how people searched for meaning.
The Temple of Heaven (Tīan Tán) is where Emperors of the Qing and Ming Dynasties held religious ceremonies and imperial sacrifices to please the gods, in return for good harvests and atonement.
People believed that the earth represented the human realm, and the sky, the God’s world, and it is here that the Emperors played a role between the two.
Mystical design and architecture
The design of the site is absolutely dripping in symbolism.
The pagodas were created to mimick the relationship between the heavens (sky) and earth.
The buildings reflect cosmological beliefs at the time and follow strict numerological designs.
There is a spot at the centre of the Circular Mound – where you can shout or clap and hear an eerie surround-sound echo.
So be careful what you say, as you’ll likely be in earshot of everyone!
In line with Ming dynasty architecture, all the buildings are decorated with red to represent Ancient China’s imperial court.
However, unlike most Imperial buildings – where the rooves are golden – all the buildings within the Temple of Heaven have special dark blue roof tiles to represent the sky (heaven).
The Most Heavenly Temple
I found the most impressive building in the Temple of Heaven to be the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests.
It’s location on the grounds is said to have been placed by the Emperor’s Feng shui masters, who identified this spot as the exact point where heaven meets Earth.
Again, there is a story within the architecture.
Inside the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest are 28 columns to represent the months, divided into four pillars to represent the seasons.
Did you know: The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest was completely built without nails!
Modern use and military dances
Today, the site is far from ceremonial but moreso a popular local spot, for families to stroll around the parks, or for people to get together in the square and dance in weird get ups.
Actually, what is really going on, is a tradition steeped in history.
So, why are there people dancing in military garb?
When worshipping the heavens, civil and military dances took place to honor the ancestors.
When a ruler took control of the country by a “virtuous deed”, then a civil dance would be offered to the heavens.
However, if a country was overtaken by military force – like was the case with Ming and Qing – then a some military dance moves would be busted to please the ancestors.
Some useful info + map
Chinese name: 天坛 (Tīan Tán)
Address: 1 Tiantan E Rd, Dongcheng, Beijing
Opening hours: 8AM – 6PM, park opens at 6AM
Ticket cost: 10 RMB – 35 RMB (depending on season)