The Temple of Heaven is the most holy
of Beijing Imperial temples. It is much bigger than
the Forbidden City and smaller than the Summer Palace
with an area of about 2,700,000 square meters. The Temple
was built in 1420 A.D. during the Ming Dynasty to offer
sacrifice to Heaven. As Chinese emperors called themselves
'The Son of Heaven', they dared not to build their own
dwelling, 'Forbidden City' bigger than a dwelling for
The temple of Heaven was where the
Emperor came every winter solstice to worship heaven
and to solemnly pray for a good harvest. Since his rule
was legitimized by a mandate from heaven, a bad harvest
could be interpreted as his fall from heaven's favour
and threaten the stability of his reign. So, it was
not without a measure of self-interest that the Emperor
fervently prayed for a very good crop.
In line with the Confucianist revival
during the Ming dynasty, the sacred harvest ceremony
was combined with the Emperor's worship of his ancestors.
This embellishment was also, in effect, self-interested.
For according to the Confucian pattern of social organization,
just as the Emperor respected his ancestors, so a younger
brother should respect an elder brother, a wife her
husband, a son his father, and a nation's subjects their
ruler. Incorporating ancestor worship within the most
solemn ceremony of the Imperial ritual calendar indirectly
reinforced the social philosophy that perpetuated the
The Temple is divided by two enclosed
walls into inner part and outer part. The main buildings
of the Temple lie at the south and north ends of the
middle axis line of the inner part. The northern part
within the wall is semicircular symbolizing the heavens
and the southern part is square symbolizing the earth.
The northern part is higher than the southern part.
This design shows that the heaven is high and the earth
is low and the design reflected an ancient Chinese thought
of 'The heaven is round and the earth is square'.
The design of the Temple of Heaven
complex, true to its sacred purpose, reflects the mystical
cosmological laws believed to be central to the workings
of the universe. Hence, complex numerological permutations
operate within its design. For example, because the
number nine was considered to be the most powerful digit,
you will see that the slabs that form the Circular Altar
have been lain in multiples of nine. Similarly within
the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, the interior twenty-eight
columns are divided into four central pillars to represent
the seasons, twelve inner columns to represent the months
and twelve outer columns to represent the two hour tranches
that make up a day. There are many such examples of
this intense numerology at play.
The most magnificent buildings are
The Circular Mound Altar (Yuanqiutan), Imperial Vault
of Heaven (Huangqiongyu) and Hall of Prayer for Good
Harvest (Qiniandian) from south to north. Also, there
are some additional buildings like Three Echo Stones
and Echo Wall. Almost all of the buildings are connected
by a wide bridge called Vermilion Steps Bridge (Danbiqiao)
or called Sacred Way.