Circular Mound Altar
Entering through the Zhaoheng Gate (the southern gate), you will see a white marble road stretching out to the Circular Mound Altar. It is enclosed with two walls; the inner one is circular symbolizing heaven and the outer one is square symbolizing the earth. The two walls reflect an ancient Chinese thought that ‘heaven is round and the earth is square’. The tops of the walls are covered with green glazed tiles. 24 groups of Lingxing Gates are set around the walls. Each group includes three openings - the middle one, a special passage for the Heaven Great being the biggest; the west one for the emperor is smaller; the east one is the smallest, and is used for the accompanying personnel for the worship ceremony.
Lantern Viewing Pole
To the southwest of the Circular Mound Altar stands a pole which was used to hang a cylindrical bamboo-woven lantern. The pole is 29 meters (95 feet) high. It has a lever and pulley for raising and lowering the lantern. There used to be three poles, but the other two were destroyed. The Lantern Viewing Pole is not only a sign of the location of the worshipping ceremony, but also a sign of the starting time and finishing time.
Architectural Art of 9
In ancient China, odd numbers were called positive numbers, and even numbers were called negative numbers. 9 is the biggest positive number, so 9 was used to show the imperial authority. The number of fences and steps of Circular Mound Altar is either 9 or a multiple of 9. The Circular Mound Altar has three layers. The upper layer consists of fan-shaped stones, a total of 9 circles. The innermost circle has 9 stones. 9 pieces of stone were added progressively for every circle to the outside. The sum of the diameter of the three layers is 45 (9X5) Zhang (135 meters or 443 feet), symbolizing the so-called ‘Nine-Five Dignity’ of the emperor.
Heaven Heart Stone
Heaven Heart Stone, also known as Sun Stone, is one of most distinct, design-wise, in the Temple of Heaven. It is a round stone in the center of the altar which is slightly protruding. If you stand on it and shout or knock, the sound waves will be clearly echoed. In ancient times, at the Worshipping Heaven Ceremony, the ritual officer would stand on the stone to read the oration and the clangorous sound seemed to be reaching to heaven.
Divine Kitchen Courtyard
Divine Kitchen Courtyard is the general name for the Divine Kitchen, the Divine Storeroom and the Butcher Pavilion. The Divine Kitchen is a specialized kitchen that prepared more than 30 kinds of offering, such as cereals, wines, jade, silk objects and sacrificial cattle. The Divine Storeroom is where the offerings were stored. The Butcher Pavilion is a place for slaughtering ritual sacrifices.
Next: Imperial Vault of Heaven