On leaving the Forbidden City, follow
in the footsteps of emperors, court ministers and eunuchs and head
south to the magnificent and colorful Temple of Heaven (Tiantan).
Although the bi-annual procession consisting of thousands of eunuchs
and ministers no longer takes place, The Temple of Heaven and Tiantan
park are still a delightful place to visit.
Temple of Heaven was completed in 1420 and was
originally a platform for the Son of Heaven (the emperor) to perform
sacrifices and solemn rites. Among the gods worshiped were the god
of earth, the god of water, the god of agriculture (who has his
own hall in the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests), the god of the
military, the god of religion and the god of civilians. Offering
sacrifices was a serious task, as was atoning the sins of the people.
The entire empire relied on the emperor for good fortune and abundant
harvests so he had quite a responsibility! The Temple was opened
to the public in 1912 and commoners who had previously been banned
from even watching the bizarre procession pass through the city
to Tiantan, were now permitted to visit the Temple themselves.
Temple of Heaven buildings and the parklands reflect
ancient Chinese religious beliefs that imagine heaven as round and
earth as square. Thus, the buildings in the temple are constructed
on a central axis. The temples themselves are round and the bases
square. Similarly, the Northern part of the park is a semicircular
shape and the south, a square. In the south of the Temple complex
are the Altar of Heaven and the Echo Wall. The parklands and the
Temple are an exquisite place to spend some time, especially in
the early morning. Drag yourself out of bed at dawn and watch the
Taiji experts, kite flyers and dance fans strut their stuff.