After our buffet lunch at the Sunshine Café at He Ping Li Hotel, we all returned to our airconditioned coach and proceeded, to the Temple of Heaven (literally the Altar of Heaven). This 273-hectare, magnificent, grand and colorful complex of sacrificial buildings (the largest in the world), a UNESCO World Heritage Site (1998), was built from 1406-1420 AD and is situated in the southeastern part of central Beijing. During the Ming and Qing Dynasties, the complex was visited by the emperor for annual ceremonies of prayer to the God of Heaven for good harvest.
Upon alighting our coach, we entered the complex via the South Gate then walked along the Long Corridor (Chang Lang). Walking along this covered walkway, with its 72 bays, took us past the Sacred Kitchen, Butcher House (Zaisheng Ting) and the Sacred Warehouse (ShenKu), where sacrificial animals (slaughtered at least 200 steps away from the altar) were kept and prepared before the rituals.
The temple’s most recognizable building, at the north end, was the majestic Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, an impressive 38-m. high and 30-m. diameter wooden building that sits on a large, circular 3-tiered white marble plinth (called the Altar for Grain Prayers). Its cone-shaped, blue roof is crowned with a gilded knob. The magnificently decorated hall itself was built without using a single nail, truly a feat that required a high level of craftsmanship.
Inside the hall, with its large south facing ceremonial throne, are 28 tall pillars, each made from a single tree trunk. The 4 pillars along the inner circle represent the 4 seasons, the 12 pillars along the middle circle the 12 months, and the other 12 pillars along the outer circle represent the 12 shichen, the ancient Chinese counting standard (1 shichen equals 2 hours, 1 day being divided into 12 shichen). The black, yellow and green colors of the inner roof represent, like everything in the altar, the Earth and the Heaven.
We exited the park via the East Gate.