During the Ming and Qing dynasties,
the emperor came to the Temple of Heaven to pay
homage to Heaven. The custom to worship Heaven
and the earth came into being during the Zhou
Dynasty (c. 11th century - 256 B.C.) and elaborated
into a formal ritual during the Han and Tang dynasties
(618 - 907). In the early 15th century a temple
was built to pay respect to both heaven and the
earth and in the middle of that century the ceremonies
to worship heaven, the earth, the sun and the
moon were conducted at four seperate temples.
The Temple of Heaven was expanded during the Qing
Dynasty and has remained as the largest complex
of temple in China.
The Temple of Heaven has an area
of 273 hectares with a layout in two squares one
inside the other. Two walls divide the ground
into the outer and inner parts. The outer wall
is 6, 416 meters long and the inner wall is 3,
292 meters long. The northern part of the outer
and inner walls is a semicircle and the southern
part of them is square, declining from north to
south to symbolize the traditional belief that
Heaven was high and round and the earth was low
and rectangular. Main structures are located on
the ends of a flagstonepaved central north-south
path: from south to north are the Circular Mound
Altar, Imperial Vault of Heaven, the Hall of Prayer
for Good Harvest and Huangqian Hall. Auxiliary
structures include Divine Kitchen, Slaughter Pavilion
and Palace of Abstinence.
The Temple of Heaven is an outstanding
representative of Chinese traditional architecture
for its clever design and harmoneous colors.
Inside the Hall of Prayer
for Good Harvest
The pillars inside the hall all
have a meaning: the four in the inner circle represent
the four seasons of the year; the 12 pillars in
the middle circle represent 12 months of the year
and the 12 pillars in the outer circle represent
12 time periods of the day. The Leigong Pillar
under the center of the ceiling means the absolute
power of the emperor.
The circular wall surrounding
the Imperial Vault of Heaven is 193.2 meters long,
3.7 meters high and 0.9 meter thick. If one speaks
against the wall at one end another can hear his
voice at other end of it.
It is the third stone slab on
the path in front of the Imperial Vault of Heaven.
When one stands on it and claps his hands three
or more echoes seem to emit from the stone. It
can cause such echoes because it is located in
the middle under the Echo Wall. It was made mysterious
in the old days by the rulers to prevent gossiping
Circular Mound Altar
Also known Heaven Mound Altar,
it is five meters high and of three tiers. Around
each tier there are white marble balusters. During
the Ming and Qing dynasties in early winter the
emperor would come to this mound to pay homage
to heaven and pray for peace and a good harvest.
Heart of Heavenly Stone
The stone placed in the center
of the top tier the Circular Mound Altar. Around
it there are nine circles, each with nine stones,
altogether 3,402 pieces. They are of idential
size and appearance and put closely together.
They have remained intact during the past several
hundred years. When people stand on the Heart
of Heavenly Stone and shout echoes will be heard.