Comments of the World Heritage Committee
The Temple of Heaven, founded in the first half of the 15th century, is a dignified complex of fine cult buildings set in gardens and surrounded by ancient pine woods. In its overall layout and that of its individual buildings, it symbolizes the relationship between the earth and heaven, which stands at the heart of Chinese cosmogony, and also the special role played by the emperors within that relationship.
Located in the southeast of Beijing, the Temple of Heaven, first built in 1420 or the 18th year of the reign of Emperor Yongle (1736-1795) of the Ming Dynasty, and expanded or rebuilt by Ming Emperor Jiajing (1522-1566) and Qing Emperor Qianlong (1736-1795), covers a total area of 2.73 million square meters. It is the place where the emperors of the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties offered sacrifices to the God of Heaven and the God of Earth. It is representative of China’s numerous sacrificial buildings, as well as being the temple complex with the most remains and the largest scale — not just in China but also in the world.
There are two circuits of enclosing walls: the outer wall, which defines the Outer Altar, and the corresponding dimensions for the inner enceinte (the Inner Altar). The area that it occupies is almost square, the two southern corners being right-angled and those on the north rounded. This symbolizes the ancient Chinese belief that heaven is round and the earth square. The Red Stairway Bridge serves as the central north-south axis for the buildings in the temple. Being 360 meters long, 28 meters wide and 2.5 meters high, it connects the southern sector, known as the Circular Mound Altar, and the northern, the Altar of the God of Grain. Inside the Circular Mound Altar, the principle buildings include the Circular Mound and the Imperial Vault of Heaven, while inside the Altar of the God of Grain there are the Hall of Prayers for Abundant Harvests, the Hall of Imperial Heaven, and the Gate of Prayers for Abundant Harvests. The Circular Mound repeats the symbolism of the walls, since the central round feature (heaven) is inside a square enclosure (the earth). It consists of three circular platforms of white marble, decreasing in diameter, surrounded by balustrades of the same material. It is the place where the emperors offered sacrifice to the Heaven, praying for rain. The Hall of Prayers for Abundant Harvests is situated inside a square walled enclosure. In form and materials it repeats the three-tiered circular structure in white marble of the Temple of Heaven. It is surmounted by the Hall itself, once again circular in plan, and with three superimposed roofs in blue glazed tiles, from which the Emperor offered up prayers for good harvests. It is supported on a massive wooden framework and its interior is richly decorated.
The entire enceinte is surrounded by remains of the ancient pine forest, which has been carefully maintained and where there have been new plantings to complete the symbolic link between humankind and nature.
In downtown areas, tourists can take public bus Nos. 6, 34, 35 or 106 and get off by the North Gate of the Temple of Heaven or take public bus Nos. 120 or 122 and get off by the South Gate or take public bus No. 729 and get off by the West Gate or public bus No. 43 to the East Gate.
Opposite the East Gate of the Temple of Heaven is the well-known Hongqiao Market, which mainly sells pearls, bags, boxes and watches. The Yuanlong Silk Commericial Building, opposite the North Gate of the Temple of Heaven, principally offers silk products. Both are good places for tourists to browse and purchase souvenirs.
Admission: 10 yuan in low season and 15 yuan in busy season.
Opening Hours: 06:00-21:00 (08:00-19:30 for main scenic spots)