Temple of Heaven FAQ

Temple of Heaven
Temple of Heaven
As the Heaven Sacrifice place for the emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties, the Temple of Heaven bears witness to pious moments, when the designated “Son of Heaven” makes offerings to divine heaven. The emperors provide seasonal offerings on behalf of the ordinary folks and plead for full harvests on the good earth. The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, Circular Mound Altar and Imperial Vault of Heaven are the major and representative shrines in the temple.

 Where is the Temple of Heaven? How large is it?
 Located at No. Jia 1, Tiantan Road, Dongcheng District, the Temple of Heaven is 4 km (about 2.5 mi) southeast of Tiananmen Square which is the center of Beijing. It has become a visitor’s prime objective in Beijing. With an area of about 2,700,000 sq meters (about 3,229,173 sq yards), it is larger than the Forbidden City, but smaller than the Summer Palace.

 When and why was the temple constructed?
 It was first constructed in 1420 during the reign of Emperor Yongle in the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644). The temple reached its present scope during the reign of Emperor Qianlong in the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911). It was constructed with the emperor’s official duties in mind to hold the Heaven Sacrifice Ceremony to pray for graces from Heaven and full harvests on earth.


Heaven Heart Stone
Heaven Heart Stone
 What are the major scenic spots there?
 The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, Circular Mound Altar and Imperial Vault of Heaven are the major scenic spots. Apart from the three, the Palace of Abstinence and the Bell Tower nearby, Pavilion of Immolation, Double Rings Longevity Pavilion, Seventy-two Long Corridors and Seven Star Rocks are also worthwhile visiting.

 Why were the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests and Circular Mound Altar constructed?
 In Chinese feudal society, feeding the hungry masses was always the primary concern of rulers. So the emperors must always appease the elements of nature and tame the supernatural as well. By tradition emperors must uphold the pretense of being virtuous and worthy of boundless kindness from the Heavenly Emperor to deliver years of harvests and peace for the common good. As a valid way, the emperors intended to hold the Heaven Sacrifice Ceremony to pray for the good harvests. Therefore, the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests and Circular Mound Altar was constructed to hold the ceremony and the emperors acted as high priests in performing sacred rites. 


 What is the function of Imperial Vault of Heaven? How about the side-halls?
 Located in the north of Circular Mound Altar, it is the place where the spirit tablets of the Heavenly Emperor as well as the tablets of the previous eight generation forefathers are laid out. As the annex of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, the eastern and western branches are used to keep the spirit tablets of the sun, the moon, the stars and the time as well as wind, rain, thundering and cloud. When the Heaven Sacrifice Ceremony was held, these tablets have to be ushered in the Imperial Vault of Heaven for prayer.


Circular Mound Altar
Circular Mound Altar
Imperial Vault of Heaven
Imperial Vault of Heaven
 I heard that fantastic acoustics was well applied to the construction of the temple. What is it?
 The most representative acoustics sources are in Triple-Echo Stone, Echo Wall and the Circular Mound Altar. The construction of the three is all based on the theory of echo.

Could you please give me a recommended visiting route?
 Generally, visitors get into the temple from its south Gate. Walking straight to the Circular Mound Altar, you can enjoy the shrine where the Heaven Sacrifice Ceremony was held. After that, you can go to the Imperial Vault of Heaven, where the well-known Echo Wall challenges you for a try. Then walking straight through the Imperial Walkway Bridge, you will get to the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. Not far from the hall, you can walk to the Seventy-Two Long Corridors and then Seven-Star Rocks. Finally, walk out of the temple from the East Heaven Gate.


Round Temple Wall
Northern Round Wall
 Why are the major buildings of the temple shaped round, with the blue tops?
 In the ancient times, people saw the sky was round and the temple construction mimicked “heaven”, thus they are in round shape. In the same way, as the sky is blue, the roofs of the buildings accordingly are painted blue.

 Why is the southern wall of the temple square and the northern wall round?
 People saw the sky above was round and the earth was generally flat. As the emperors held the ceremony for both the earth and the heaven, the corresponding walls were made into square and round to represent the earth and the heaven respectively.


 When would the emperors hold the Heaven Sacrifice Ceremony?
 Every 15th day of the first month according to the Chinese lunar calendar, the reigning emperor went to the former hall to make sacrifice to the Heavenly Emperor to prayer for sufficient and timely rain in the growing season. On the day of the Winter Solstice on December 21st or 22nd, he went to the latter building to perform the Heaven Sacrifice Ceremony to prayer for the good harvests. The emperor also often went there to prayer for rain in the early summer.

 How did the emperors pray for good harvests in the temple?
 Actually, the prayer ceremony started from the day before the formal prayer: entering the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests from the left gate, the emperor went to Huangqian Hall to pay homage first and then introduces various spirit tablets to the corresponding altars. After that, he would go to check the oblation and went to the Palace of Abstinence. On the next day, the emperor would formally offer sacrifice in the center of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. At the same time, his protocol minister would attend to the ceremonial details. In wake of that, designated emperor’s surrogates would taste the sacrificial food. The rites would be accompanied by grand performance provided by court musicians.