Suitcase and World: Temple of Heaven.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Temple of Heaven.

After our failed attempt to visit the Forbidden City because it's designated as a museum and today is Monday which is the de facto day of the week that museums are typically closed, we decided to head to the Temple of Heaven.

It's easy enough to get to the Temple of Heaven by the Beijing metro, I decided that while we were walking towards the metro, we could try flagging down a taxi to take us there.  We managed to stop three taxis and all three drivers told us that the Temple of Heaven was closed and offered to drive us to Badaling Great Wall instead.  After the 2nd driver, I decided to check the visiting hours for the Temple of Heaven and found nothing to indicate that it was closed for the day.  So, we decided to chance and just walked to the metro.

We made our way to the entrance and lo and behold, the place was open.  Those taxi drivers were trying to con us into taking the more expensive ride out to Badaling Great Wall instead of the cheaper ride to the Temple of Heaven.  Sheesh....

We got our tickets and headed on into the grounds which are many of the other landmark highlights in Beijing.  You need to be prepared to walk!  Also, like the other places, they don't provide you with a map.  There are posted maps but those aren't really very helpful unless you have a photographic memory so I would suggest either bringing along a good guidebook or else finding a map online and bringing a printed copy with you for reference as you walk through the place.  There are posted signs to point in the direction you need to go in to see a particular highlight within the complex but you still need a map to guide you.  Thankfully for us, Bro had brought along his guidebook.  I always ask him to check them out from his public library and bring them with him.....saves me from having to lug along the books 😁

The Temple of Heaven is an imperial complex of religious buildings that was used 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 Taoist temple even though Chinese heaven worship, especially by the reigning monarch of the day, predates Taoism.

For most tourists, the highlights are the Long Corridor, the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, the Imperial Vault of Heaven and the Circular Mound Altar.  It will take you about 2 hours to cover those highlights.  Be prepared to walk long distances!

Map of Temple of Heaven (Image from Access China Travel)

The temple complex was constructed from 1406 to 1420 but was extended and renamed Temple of Heaven in the 16th century and  renovated in the 18th century.

As you make your way into the complex, the first structure you walk by is the Long Corridor.  The Long Corridor extends 350 meters (1148 feet) long and is 5 meters (16 feet) wide.  It's covered and there's bench seating along one side so this corridor is a very popular gathering place for people to come and sit and read or chat with friends or play board games.   On my last visit, there were several singing and music groups practicing; today it was all about cards.   If you come early enough in the morning, you will see people gathered in the various courtyards that surround the Long Corridor - mainly doing their daily exercises; tai chi is particularly popular.

Chinese love to assign grandiose names to pretty much everything so the Long Corridor is connected to the Altar for Grain Prayers on the west, leading up to the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests.

So, walk a bit further and you will arrive at the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests.  This is the iconic structure that shows up in many a photo fronting an article about the Temple of Heaven.

They pose for photos but they never make it easy on me 😁

The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is a  triple-gabled circular building that is 36 meters (118 feet) in diameter and stands 38 meters (125 ft) in height.  It sits atop three levels of marble stone base. 

I asked him to pose like a Chinese Empress and this is what I got. 😁

Photo for his mom.  She would prefer this one to the other one.  Just saying.

The building itself is completely wooden constructed without the use of a single nail. The original building was built in 1420 but burned down by a fire caused by lightning in 1889 and rebuilt several years later.  It's in this hall where the Emperor would come to pray for good harvests. 

Inside the actual hall there is no beam but 28 large columns and interconnected squared rafters. The 28 large columns have different symbolic meanings:  the 4 columns along the inner circle represent the four seasons - spring, summer, autumn and winter; the 12 columns along the middle circle represent the 12 months; and the 12 remaining columns along the outer circle represent 12 Shichen (an ancient Chinese timing unit equaling two hours). The ceiling and the columns are decorated with fine colorful paintings.  Remember, not a single nail used in the construction.

A series of finely carved marble tablets run up the center part of the staircase.  I tried to take a photo but there was too much sun glare on the glass.

I love Chinese building decorations and as always, got a bit obsessed taking photos.  You have to admit, they are beautiful.

All the buildings within the Temple have special dark blue roof tiles, representing the Heaven.

From the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, you can look down on the Imperial Hall of Heaven....not to be confused with the more famous Imperial Vault of Heaven. 

The Imperial Hall of Heaven is described by the inscription on this plaque.  There are only three sentences in the description.  I challenge you to read them and then recall the words.  I can't do it so I just take photos.

Most certainly, the interior space of the Imperial Hall of Heaven doesn't hold a candle to the more grand interior of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests.

From the Imperial Hall of Heaven, we made our way down the very long path to the next famous landmark structure - the Imperial Vault of Heaven.

Tofu snack break.  Hey, we're Chinese.  Tofu is a snack food for us 😁

Looking back towards the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests.

When I first caught glimpse of the structure beyond the arched entryway, I thought we had arrived at the Imperial Vault of Heaven but as I neared it, I realized it wasn't it....just from the plain exterior facade.

We had obviously gone in the wrong direction so we headed back towards the Hall of Prayers for Good Harvests.

After a quick review of the map, we made our way towards a park like space.  There, I saw a tree that I immediately recognized from my 2009 visit.  This is a very famous tree because it's at least 500 years old.  It's a Chinese juniper (Juniperus chinensis) called the Nine Dragon Juniper because the person who named it thought the grooves in the tree's trunks made it look like nine coiling dragons wreathing up towards the sky.  Okay, you have to have a real good Chinese imagination to come up with that!  For me, it's a remarkable tree to have survived this many centuries and rightfully, it's protected by a fence that completely surrounds it.

Inside the park is a small pavilion housing a shop that sells snacks and souvenirs.  Perfect place for an ice cream break for your's truly.  Bro was astounded by the fact that many of the local Chinese people were eating instant noodles.  You buy the pack aka cup of noodles from the shop and they will supply you with the hot water.  Yes, in addition to tofu, instant noodles are also considered a snack food. 😁

It was nice to sit down for a few minutes.  Afterall, we had been on our feet for a few hours.  But, we didn't linger long.  There was a famous *vault* waiting for us.

The Imperial Vault of Heaven  is a single-gabled circular building, built on a single level of marble stone base.  The marble stone base is surrounded by a smooth circular wall known as the Echo Wall because if you speak into it, it can transmit sounds over large distances so two people standing on opposite ends of the wall can supposedly hear each other.  Several tourists were testing this out.  I don't think it was working for them.  Chinese are not soft speakers by nature so hearing them shouting at the wall because whispering was working was funny but also very annoying.

The Imperial Vault of Heaven was originally built in 1530 and rebuilt in 1752 and was used to house the various tablets that were used for worshipping heaven.   In the middle of the hall stands a circular stone seat carved with patterns, on which the Heavenly Great Tablet was placed.

The fourth and final must-see attraction at the Temple of Heaven is the Circular Mound Altar,  an empty circular platform that sits atop three tiers of marble stone.  The number 9 represents the Emperor so every element of the design of the altar, including its balusters and steps, are either the sacred number nine or some multiple of nine.

At the very center of the altar is a round slate called the Heart of Heaven where the Emperor prayed for favorable weather.  The Heart of Heaven is surrounded by 9 circles of stones.  There are nine stones in the innermost, 18 in the second, all the way to 81 in the 9th and last circle.  The nice circles represent the Nine Heavens. 

The Altar was built in 1530 and rebuilt in 1740.

From here, we made our way through the Orchard to get to the Hall of Abstinence. 

I guess the Emperor needed a special place to just get away from meat, drink, music, women, and dealing with state affairs.  He would retreat here three days before performing sacrificial rites at the temple.  It took us some effort to find the Hall of Abstinence and when we got there, it was closed.   Grrr....

We spent about 2 hours walking through the Temple of Heaven and that was enough for us so at this point, we decided to leave.  It was past 1p and we were all ready for lunch.  So, with our revised itinerary, our next sightseeing stop would be the Lama Temple which is accessible by the metro.  We'll just find a place, somewhere in the vicinity, to eat. 

I really enjoyed my return visit to the Temple of Heaven and you never know, I might just be back one day!