Imperial Altars and Temples in Beijing

The Central Axis of Beijing, also called Dragon Pulse in ancient times, is as old as the city itself. It was laid out in 1403, with all the most important imperial structures such as the Temple of Heaven, the Imperial Palace (Forbidden City) and the Tian’anmen Gate being placed either directly on or alongside its 7.8 kilometers length. The arrangements strictly adhered to traditional conceptions so as to awe ancestors and the gods of the nature.

Temple of Heaven

Lying south of south of Tian’anmen Square and the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven is the most massive and perfect ancient altar in the world and earned World Heritage List status in 1998. The Temple of Heaven was a sacred place in the minds of the ancient Chinese people, because it was a place to convey wishes to heaven. Emperors visited the temple to offer sacrifices and pray for good harvests during the winter months.

Temple of Heaven, Beijing

The Temple of Heaven is set in a 267-hectare park, with entry provided through four gates stationed at each point of the compass. The temples are round, yet they rest upon square bases in keeping with the ancient Chinese belief that heaven was round and the earth square. The crowning achievement of the temple is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, a cone-shaped wooden structure with triple eaves and a gilded ball on top. It has becomes as much a symbol of the city as any celebrated landmark in the world. The roof of the building is covered with dark blue glazed tiles to represent the color of the sky. This special Chinese style structure is splendid in its external appearance, but its inner frame is also distinctive. The circular wooden structure is wholly made of wood without a single nail or cement. The entire structure is supported by 28 massive wooden pillars, which symbolize 28 constellations in the sky.

Temple of Earth (Ditan Park)

The Temple of Earth is the second largest altar only after the Temple of Heaven. Built in 1530, it had a similar purpose as that of the Temple of Heaven. Emperors of Ming and Qing dynasties made sacrifices here each year on the summer solstice. It is uniquely solemn, simple but elegant, though it does not have structures as grand as those at the Temple of Heaven.

Temple of Earth (Ditan Park) in Beijing

Temple of Sun (Ritan Park)

The Temple of Sun, set up in 1530, was originally the site where the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties made sacrificial offerings to the god of the sun at the vernal equinox each year. Located in core area of the central business district of Beijing, it is an inner-city garden and place to retreat for white-collar workers, diplomats and other foreigners working in the area.

Temple of Sun (Ritan Park) in Beijing

Temple of Moon (Yuetan Park)

The Temple of the Moon, set up in 1530, was originally the site where the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties made sacrifices to the gods of the moon and constellations at the autumnal equinox each year.

Temple of Moon (Yuetan Park) in Beijing

Temple of Agriculture (Xiannong Altar)

Temple of Agriculture or Altar of Agriculture, where Beijing Ancient Architecture Museum is located, was built in 1420 for the purpose of making sacrifices each spring and autumn during the Ming and Qing dynasties to the Emperor Shennong, who lived 5,000 years ago and taught the ancient Chinese the practices of agriculture.

Temple of Agriculture, Beijing

Beijing Shejitan (Altar of Earth and Harvests or Altar of Land and Grain)

The Beijing Shejitan, also known as the Altar of Earth and Harvests or Altar of Land and Grain, is located in Zhongshan Park, which borders the southern moat of the Forbidden City. Emperors made offerings to the gods of earth and agriculture. The terrace is filled and surfaced with the earth of five different colors, with green to the east, red to the south, white to the west, black to the north and yellow in the middle, so it is also popularly known as Wusetu (Five-Colored Earth). The Altar of Land and Grain is symmetrically opposite the Imperial Ancestral Temple.

Beijing Shejitan -  also known as the Altar of Earth and Harvests or Altar of Land and Grain

Imperial Ancestral Temple (Ancestral Hall or Taimiao)

The Imperial Ancestral Temple, Ancestral Hall or Taimiao of Beijing, was the place where the Ming and Qing emperors paid the tribute to their ancestors every year. And it was located in a most auspicious location: the southeast quarter of the Forbidden City. Built during the early Ming Dynasty, the temple grounds are laid out with lovely paths lined with ancient trees and flowerbeds. It is now also known as the Working People’s Cultural Palace.

The Imperial Ancestral Hall of Beijing

Confucius Temple and Imperial College

Confucius (Kongzi) (551-479 BC) is acknowledged as ancient China’s greatest thinker and philosopher. Confucianism remains an important aspect of the Chinese culture even today. The temple was a sacrificial site for emperors of the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties to worship Confucius.

Confucius Temple, Beijing

The Imperial College (Guozijian) was the highest educational institution during the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties and was also the highest educational administrative department of the country. It has retained the original style of the Ming and Qing dynasties.

Yonghe Lamasery

The Yonghe Lamasery (Lama Temple) is the most massive and best preserved Lama temple in Beijing. It was the official residence of Prince Yin Zhen before he became emperor of the Qing Dynasty in 1723. The residence became a temple soon afterward. The temple’s colors were transformed from green (representing Buddhism) to imperial yellow (a color that could only be used by the emperors of China). Now a working lamasery, it has spectacular archways and halls, featuring courtyards and galleries.

Beijing Yonghe Lamasery

Temple of Ancient Monarchs

The Temple of Ancient Monarchs was used for offering sacrifices to Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors, and distinctive emperors and heroes in history. The magnificent Jingdechongsheng Hall has the same elevation and size as the Palace of Heavenly Purity in the Forbidden City. It is very rare that the 60 pillars supporting the hall are still viable despite their 470 years in use.

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