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Temple of Heaven

Begin your visit early in the morning, strolling along the park's alleyways: it is one of the preferred spots for Beijingers to do their physical exercises.

Temple of HeavenTemple of Heaven covers an area of 270 hectares to the south of Tiananmen Square, almost the size of the Summer Palace and twice that of the Forbidden City. The temple was built during the Ming Dynasty in 1420, and underwent great reconstruction work in 1740 and again in 1890 in the Qing Dynasty. This exalted place of worship became, along with the Forbidden City, one of the symbols of Beijing and one of the largest tourist venues in the city.

The starting point for the visit is the vast Round Altar, in the south of the park, where the emperors cane twice a year, at Winter Solstice and the first full moon in January to offer sacrifices in the presence of his ministers and government dignitaries. The circular form represents the Heaven, and the square wall surrounding it, the Earth. Thus the emperors always went from the Earth to the Heaven to offer sacrifices. The whole construction was built on the same geometric model of a circle inside a square. You get to the Round Altar by climbing three terraces in succession and a series of nine steps. The number 9, a symbol of perfection and longevity, can be found in several of the building's details. You can also see nine caldrons to burn the incense, distribute around the ring.

On the Round Altar there are also 360 balustrades, which symbolize the 360 days of the lunar calendar and the 360 degrees of the compass. Finally the numbers of slabs which make up the floor of the circular rings are 9 for the first ring, 18 for the second, 81 for the ninth… In the decorative sculptures you can make out other symbols such as the dragon, representation of the emperor, but equally of the Yang, and the phoenix, symbol of the empress and of the Yin.

Temple of HeavenNorth to the Round Altar can be found the Echo Wall, around 65 meters in diameter, which projects at the center of the park, the Imperial Vault of Heaven. The density of visitors renders the experience almost impossible, but if you get there at a time when there are fewer people, try to whisper at one point on the wall: a person standing on the opposite side of the circle can hear your whisper perfectly, thrown back by the echo. The Imperial Vault of Heaven is a small circular temple where prayer tablets used in the winter solstice ceremony are kept.

Further north still, linked to the Imperial Vault of Heaven by a wide flagstone alleyway is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, the largest of all the buildings. It is a circular temple, 38 meters high and 30 meters in diameter, erected in 1420 at the top of three marble decorated terraces with finely sculptured ramps of imperial and divine symbols. The number 3 can be found in the triple blue tiled roof. Destroyed by fire in 1889, it was soon rebuilt identically.

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