– OCTOBER 25, 2015
The Temple of Heaven, literally the Altar of Heaven, is a medieval complex of religious buildings situated in the southeastern part of central Beijing. The complex was visited by the Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties for annual ceremonies of prayer to Heaven for good harvest. It has been regarded as a Daoist temple, although Chinese heaven worship, especially by the reigning monarch of the day, predates Daoism.
The Temple of Heaven was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998 and was described as “a masterpiece of architecture and landscape design which simply and graphically illustrates a cosmogony of great importance for the evolution of one of the world’s great civilizations…” as the “symbolic layout and design of the Temple of Heaven had a profound influence on architecture and planning in the Far East over many centuries.”
The Temple grounds cover 2.73 km² of parkland and comprises three main groups of constructions, all built according to strict philosophical requirements:
- The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is a magnificent triple-gabled circular building, 36 meters in diameter and 38 meters tall, built on three levels of marble stone base, where the Emperor prayed for good harvests. The building is completely wooden, with no nails. The original building was burned down by a fire caused by lightning in 1889. The current building was re-built several years after the incident.
- The Imperial Vault of Heaven is a single-gabled circular building, built on a single level of marble stone base. It is located south of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests and resembles it, but is smaller. It is surrounded by a smooth circular wall, the Echo Wall, that can transmit sounds over large distances. The Imperial Vault is connected to the Hall of Prayer by the Vermilion Steps Bridge, a 360-metre-long raised walkway that slowly ascends from the Vault to the Hall of Prayer.
- The Circular Mound Altar is the altar proper, located south of the Imperial Vault of Heaven. It is an empty circular platform on three levels of marble stones, each decorated by lavishly carved dragons. The numbers of various elements of the Altar, including its balusters and steps, are either the sacred number nine or its nonuples. The center of the altar is a round slate called the Heart of Heaven or the Supreme Yang, where the Emperor prayed for favorable weather. Thanks to the design of the altar, the sound of the prayer will be reflected by the guardrail, creating significant resonance, which was supposed to help the prayer communicate with the Heaven. The Altar was built in 1530 by the Jiajing Emperor and rebuilt in 1740.
The Seventy Year Old Door. In 1779, when Emperor Qianlong was 70 years old, he felt his health was going to fail him. As such, the officials of the Ministry of Rituals suggested opening up a small door in the surrounding wall west of the Imperial Hall of Heaven so as to shorten the distance of his walk to the ceremony. The emperor gladly accepted the idea. However, Emperor Qianlong, out of fear that his offspring would follow suit and abuse this convenience, issued a decree stating “From now on only he among my offspring could enter and exit this door who has reached the age of 70 years old“. It was therefore name the Seventy-Year-Old-Door. Afterwards, the successive emperors of the Qing Dynasty no one reached the age of 70, so Emperor Qianlong was the only person in history who has used this door.
There were a few couples taking their wedding pictures on the temple grounds.
The Capital Museum is an art museum in Beijing. It opened in 1981 and moved into its present building in 2006, which houses a large collection of ancient porcelain, bronze, calligraphy, painting, jade, sculpture, and Buddhist statues from imperial China as well as other Asian cultures.
The Beijing Capital Museum today contains over 200,000 cultural relics in its collection. Only a small fraction of the collection is exhibited, and a significant percentage of the museum’s art collection comprises artifacts unearthed in Beijing.
The Capital Museum was established in 1981 with a collection of some 83,000 objects. Although the museum pales in comparison to the visitors received in other major art museums in Beijing, such as the Palace Museum in the Forbidden City, the National Museum of China, and the National Art Museum of China; it has since then became one of the leading cultural institutions in the city.
The present Capital Museum’s building’s massive roof and the gradient at the entrance square was influenced by the design from ancient Chinese architecture, and the stone-made exterior wall was meant to symbolize imagery of the city walls and towers in ancient China. A piece of danbi (a massive stone carved with images of dragon, phoenix and imperial artifacts) is embedded on the ground in front of the north gate of the museum, whereas a decorative archway from the Ming Dynasty is set in the receptional hall in which shows the “central axis” feature that are commonly seen in Chinese architecture. The Bronze Exhibition Hall, which has an oval-shape, was also meant to symbolize the unearthing of ancient relics by its slanting design in which extends from the ground to the exterior of the museum.
Next we head off for a day trip to the Great Wall of China.
For more photos of our adventure go to our flickr account here.