Temple of Heaven Park is the largest
of all parks in Beijing with an area of 667 acres (269.9 ha.). It
is covered with ancient pines and green cypresses many of which
are over five hundred years old. The main buildings in this park
are a group of temples, which are noted for their exquisite layout,
harmonious color, and unique structure. They comprise one of the
most beautiful architectural achievements in the world and are outstanding
masterpieces of traditional Chinese architecture.
This group of temples was built at the
same time as the Imperial Palace (1406-1420 A.D.). The feudal emperors
who called themselves "the sons of heaven" held ceremonies
to worship heaven every year and the Temple of Heaven was built
just for this purpose.
The Temple of Heaven, which is the name given
to these ceremonial buildings, has two surrounding walls, both of
which are round to the north and square to the south. Such a pattern
symbolizes the ancient belief that heaven is round and the earth
Entering the western gate of the Temple to the
right there is a path which leads through the trees to the Hall
of Abstinence. The Hall is a group of buildings surrounded by a
square enclosure and a moat. This section of the Temple of Heaven
is presently not open to visitors.
Continuing along the entrance path one comes to a raised passage
called the Red Stairway Bridge. This broad walk connects the two
sets of main buildings in the Temple of Heaven enclosure. On this
Red Stairway Bridge there is a platform to the east. It is on this
platform that the emperors changed clothing before going to worship.
Turning northward and entering through the Gate
of Prayer for Good Harvest, one will see the Hall of Prayer for
Good Harvest in its full grandeur. It is a lofty cone-shaped structure
with triple eaves and a blue-tiled roof. The entire structure is
123 ft. (37.5 m.) high and is supported by twenty-eight massive
wooden pillars each of which symbolizes a different thing. The four
central columns, called the "Dragon Well pillars," represent
the four seasons. Surrounding these four there are two rings of
twelve columns each, the inner ring symbolizing the twelve months,
and the outer ring, the twelve divisions of day and night. The center
of the stone-paved floor is a round marble slab which has a natural
pattern of a dragon and phoenix. The whole building is a wooden
structure joined together by means of wooden bars, laths, and brackets
without the use of any iron or bronze.
The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest served as
the place where the emperors prayed for good harvest every year
on the fifteenth day of the first moon by the lunar calendar. Behind
this Hall is the Hall of Heavenly Emperor, a place to keep the tablet
of heaven and other divine symbols during the year. Going back out
through the Gate of Prayer for Good Harvest, and proceeding southward,
you can visit the Imperial Vault of Heaven and the Circular Mound
The Circular Mound Altar was the place for making
offerings to heaven on the winter solstice. In ancient China the
odd numbers (1, 3. 5, 7, 9) were regarded as "sun numbers."
So the number of stone slabs in any part of this Altar (terrace
floor, staircases, and balustrades) is made in multiples of 9. After
the ceremony the tablet of the God of Heaven and the tablets of
the Gods of Wind. Rain, Thunder, and Lightning were brought back
to be stored in the Imperial Vault of Heaven.
The surrounding wall of the Imperial Vault of
Heaven and the center stones of the Circular Mound Altar produce
a strange acoustic effect. People can make "telephone calls"
through the wall. Two people standing behind the side chambers,
one on each side, and speaking softly to the wall, may be heard
by each other. This is often referred to as Echo Wall.
On the flight of steps leading down from the
Imperial Vault of Heaven there are three rectangular stones. If
you stand on the first stone and call out, the sound will be echoed
once; on the second, twice; on the third stone, three times. These
are called the Triple Sound Stones.