Temple of Heaven in Beijing. Description, photos, interesting facts, coordinates

Tiantan Temple of Heaven in China

The Temple of Heaven is one of China’s amazing ancient temple complexes. It is a collection of buildings and a park area. The total area of the complex is more than 2.7 square kilometers.

Temple of Heaven in Beijing

Where is it located

You will find the Temple of Heaven 4 km south of the legendary Forbidden City and 2.7 km from Tiananmen Square in downtown Beijing.

History of the Temple of Heaven

It was built from 1406 to 1420 during the Ming Dynasty under Emperor Yongle, who also oversaw the construction of the Forbidden City.

At first it was called the Temple of Heaven and Earth. 110 years later (in 1530), under the Jiajing dynasty, it was renamed the Temple of Heaven. This was because the Temple of the Earth was built separately. Emperor Jiajing built the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon.

In the 18th century, Emperor Qianlong made a great reconstruction of the complex. During the so-called Second Opium War, it was seized by troops of the Anglo-French coalition. In 1900 the temple was occupied by the Alliance of Eight powers. It was turned into a command post. The beautiful complex was severely damaged. Many historical and religious artifacts were looted. With the fall of the imperial dynasty, the temple fell into oblivion. At the beginning of the 20th century, the complex underwent another reconstruction.

Temple of Heaven Park

Temple of Heaven Park.

In 1918, it was turned into a park and became accessible to the public for the first time. Remarkably, until then only members of the imperial family had access to the Temple of Heaven.

Since 1998 the Temple of Heaven was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The main areas of the temple

The complex has retained its ancient structure. In the northern part it is made in a semi-circle. This is the symbol of Heaven. The southern part is in the form of a square (the symbol of the Earth). Here it is necessary to allocate some especially significant sites.

Temple of the harvest.

Sometimes it is called the Temple of the Harvest Prayer. It is the biggest and the main attraction of the entire complex. It is often associated with the Temple of Heaven.

The Temple of the Harvest is a magnificent three-tiered circular building 36 meters in diameter and 38 meters high. It stands on a marble base (also of three levels).

Temple of Heaven. China

In 1889 a lightning struck this temple and it burned down. A few years later it was rebuilt.

An interesting fact is that the building is completely wooden and was built without a single nail.

In the center of the Harvest Temple is the Hall of Prayer. It is a rounded hall, the roof of which is supported by 28 columns. The four outer columns represent the seasons. The 12 middle pillars represent the Chinese lunar months and finally the 12 inner pillars represent the 12 periods of 2 hours.

Vault of the Harvest Temple

Inside the Temple of the Harvest

Interesting fact – Each of the 28 columns corresponds to a particular constellation.

Here are also placed the so-called “soul plates” of Heaven and the names of all former emperors. Every year for 2 centuries, on the winter solstice day, emperors came here. They personally prayed for a bountiful harvest and presented gifts to Heaven. In 1914, the last imperial prayer was held here by Yuan Shikai. He tried to preserve the dynasty and declared himself emperor.

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Hall of Prayer for a Good Harvest

Hall of Prayer for a Good Harvest

The Emperor’s Heavenly Sanctuary

It is also known as the Palace of Lent or Abstinence. It is built to the south of the Temple of the Harvest and looks like a smaller copy of it. Here the emperor observed three days of strict fasting, prayed and prepared for the ceremony. Now there is a museum in this palace with an exhibition of items necessary for the ceremony.

Lenten Palace

The Palace of Lent

Sacred Road

From the Emperor’s sanctuary to the Temple of the Harvest, the Holy Road is 360 meters long and 30 meters wide. It is now a beautiful walking road.

Sacred Road

Round Altar

It is located a little south of the Emperor’s Sanctuary. It is a circular three-tiered marble platform. It is lavishly decorated with images of dragons.

An interesting fact – The number of elements of the decoration of the altar (including even the steps) is a multiple of 9. For the Chinese, this number is sacred.

The center of the altar is called the Heart of Heaven.

The peculiarity of this place is that it is surrounded by a smooth round wall, perfectly reflecting sounds. It is also called the wall of Echo or “talking wall”. Even a whisper can be heard well here.

Round Altar

Round Altar

Temple of Heaven in tourism

The complex has become an interesting historical and tourist site. There are always a lot of people here. You will meet musicians, singers, dancers and just relaxing and carefree people. Magnificent views and landscaped area, a small garden of stones and luxurious flower beds. All this attracts a lot of people. Someone is playing cards and mahjong, and someone is engaged in traditional Chinese gymnastics qigong. Any visitor will find something interesting for themselves.

Visitors to Heaven Temple Park

The park is open from 6am to 10pm and the temple complex from 8am to 8pm The entrance fee for April through October: park and temple complex: 35 yuan. park only: 15 yuan For November through March: 30 yuan and 10 yuan respectively. Ticket sales close one hour before closing time.

How to get there

The Tiantangmen subway station on line 5 closest to the park will take you to the East Gate. There are buses 25, 36, 39, 208, 525, 610, 685, 686, 723, 827, 829, 957, 958. The West Gate is accessible by buses No2, 15, 17, 20, 35, 36, 69, 71, 120, 203, 504, 707, 729, BRT1, 11. North Gate is accessible via routes No6, 34, 35, 36, 106, 110, 687, 707. South Gate is accessible by routes No1, 11, 12, 36, 53, 102, 120, 122, 208, 525, 610, 958.

Temple of Heaven – the main Imperial Temple of the Celestial Empire

Temple of Heaven

The Temple of Heaven was the most important of Beijing’s imperial temples. It was here that the Chinese emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties (from 1420 to 1900) worshipped the sky, offered generous offerings and prayed for a good harvest.

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This iconic place is rightly called a “masterpiece of architecture and landscape design.”

Temple of Heaven – Briefly

temple of heaven china

  • Chinese name: 天坛 (Tiāntán)
  • Date of construction: 1420
  • Purpose: The emperors worshipped heaven here
  • Significance: Main temple in China, 4th most popular place in Beijing according to TripAdvisor
  • Things to do: Admire the architecture and watch the locals do their traditional exercises.
  • Who is Suitable for: Everybody, especially history and architecture buffs.
  • Park Area: 2.7 km².
  • Time frame: 2 hours
  • Location: Center of Beijing, 3 km south of the Forbidden City

History of the Temple of Heaven

temple of heaven peking

  • Both the Temple of Heaven and the Forbidden City were built from 1406 to 1420, during Emperor Yongle’s restoration of Beijing as the capital of China.
  • In 1530, the Hall of Heaven and the Round Altar were built by order of the Jiajing Emperor.
  • In 1889, the main hall was destroyed by a lightning strike and was rebuilt in the following decade.
  • In 1900, during the suppression of the Ihe Tuan Rebellion, the temple was used by the foreign allies as a temporary command post. The buildings of the temple complex were destroyed and the Temple of Heaven itself fell into disrepair.
  • In 1918, the temple complex was turned into a public park and opened to the public.
  • In 1998 the Temple of Heaven was inscribed on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Temple of Heaven – What to See

Temple of Heaven in Beijing

The Temple of Heaven is located in the southeastern part of Beijing. The total area of the park is about 270 hectares, but the main buildings are located in the middle of the park, along a central axis 750 meters long running from north to south.

The most prominent building of the temple complex is the tall round Harvest Temple at the northern end of the park. To the south are the Hall of the Heavenly Vault and the Round Altar . All these buildings are connected by a walkway 360 meters long and 30 meters wide. The path is called Danbicao, the “Bridge of the Scarlet Steps.

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The Harvest Temple (Hall of Sacrificial Prayer)

The Harvest Temple (祈年殿 Qíniándiàn) is the main building of the temple complex. Here the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties offered annual prayers for a good harvest. The Hall of Sacrificial Prayer is a majestic round wooden hall with a three-tiered roof supported by 28 massive columns.

Hall of Heaven Vault Temple of Heaven

2. The Hall of Heavenly Vault

The Hall of Heavenly Vault (皇穹宇 Huángqióngyǔ) was the place where the “divine” tablets, the stone tablets used in the reaping prayer ceremony, were kept. Around the Hall of Heaven are the famous Wall of Echoes, the Stone of Threefold Echoes and the Stone of Dialogue.

3. the Altar of Heaven (Round Altar)

The Round Altar (圜丘坛 Huánqiūtán) is a three-tiered altar made of marble. The winter solstice ceremonies were held here. In the center of the altar is a round slab, the Stone of Heaven’s Will (天心石 Tiānxīnshí), where the emperor prayed for favorable weather and crops.

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Tourist route and map of the Temple of Heaven

Normally, the tour route through the Temple of Heaven begins at the South Gate and runs along the central axis toward the north: Altar of Heaven (Round Altar) – Wall of Echoes – Hall of Heavenly Vault – Bridge of Scarlet Steps – Harvest Temple (Hall of Sacrificial Prayer) – North Gate. If you are planning a trip to China, learn about 5 important tips before you go.

Temple of Heaven map

The above is the most popular route and map of the Temple of Heaven, but you can find many other interesting places within the temple complex. In addition, as you stroll through the park, you will have the opportunity to see the traditional pastime of Beijing people, something that is easy to miss when traveling alone.

China Highlights’ carefully designed travel programs allow you to experience the atmosphere of authentic China. For instance, you can join the locals in their traditional exercises at the Temple of Heaven Park. This way you will share this magical moment in a place sacred to the Chinese and have an unforgettable experience on your trip. To create a spectacular tour, simply write to the China Highlights consultants, our years of experience and knowledge are at your service!

Winter Solstice Ceremony at the Temple of Heaven

heaven temple in china

In ancient times, the Chinese emperor was considered a son of Heaven, worshipped as a representative of Heavenly power on earth. It was believed that harvest or harvest failure also depended on the will of Heaven. Thus, if the emperor did not have the support of Heaven when it came to the harvest, Heaven did not favor him. The emperor understood that the stability of his power could be threatened by a bad harvest.

Emperors therefore attached particular importance to the sacrifice and harvest prayer during the winter solstice ceremony, it was the most important religious and political event in ancient China. Learn about other ceremonies and festivals in China.

Preparations for the Harvest Prayer

sky temple photo

Three days before the ceremony, the emperor and his officials and guards moved from the Forbidden City to the Temple of Heaven. The emperor dressed in ceremonial robes and refrained from eating meat and alcohol.

The day before the important date, a ritual animal was slaughtered and everything was prepared for the sacrifice. Up to 700 different instruments were used in the ritual.

It was very closely watched that during the ceremony all the details were strictly observed. It was believed that even a slight deviation from tradition would bring the wrath of heaven upon the Celestial Empire. Since the 19th year of Emperor Yongle of the Ming dynasty, a total of 27 rulers of China participated in the Winter Solstice Ceremony at the Temple of Heaven. Ordinary people were strictly forbidden to attend the ceremony.

The Emperor’s Prayer for the Peace of the Ancestors

During the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), when Confucian influences were particularly strong, the sacred harvest ceremony was supplemented by the emperor praying for the peace of his ancestors.

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According to the Confucian understanding of social organization, through this addition, people would show more reverence for the emperor . For if the ruler honors his ancestors, the younger brother should honor the elder, the wife should honor her husband, and the people should honor their emperor. Thus, the addition of an ancestor’s prayer to the solemn ceremony in the Temple of Heaven indirectly strengthened the power of the ruler of the Celestial Empire. Learn more about What Religion in China.

Architecture of the Temple of Heaven

heaven temple architecture

The Temple of Heaven is the finest example of Chinese memorial architecture. It is known for its strict iconic layout, unusual building structure, and magnificent decoration. Read more about the architecture of China.

The architectural ensemble of the temple complex was built in accordance with its sacred purpose and reflects the cosmological concepts of the center of the universe. Both the general layout of the Temple of Heaven and the buildings themselves reflect the relationship and unity between heaven and earth, which was the core of Chinese cosmology at the time.

In the creation of the complex and later took into account the laws of numerology, which to a large extent reflected Chinese beliefs and religion. For example, since “9” was considered the most powerful number (it represented eternity), the number of plates forming the Round Altar is a multiple of nine.

Similarly, the decoration of the Temple of the Harvest is adorned by a total of 28 columns. Of these, the four central columns symbolize the four seasons. The 12 inner columns represent the 12 months and the 12 outer columns represent the 12 two-hour periods, thus signifying the day.

Another interesting fact about the Hall of Sacred Prayer is that it is considered one of the largest medieval wooden structures. The 38 meters high and 36 meters wide iconic building was built without the use of nails.

The Temple of Heaven nowadays

tai chi taijiquan heaven temple

In the days of the imperial dynasties, ordinary people could not enter the vast grounds of the Temple of Heaven Park. Today, for a small fee, anyone can spend an entire day here.

Early morning is the best time to visit the Temple of Heaven. You will not regret having to get up early. You will be amazed at the number of people who come to the park for exercise. Next to the older people moving slowly and smoothly, according to the rules of Tai Chi, you can always see young people practicing vigorous kung fu lunges. One group of people may be learning the movements of the martial art of sword fighting, while another group may be practicing aerobics to modern music.

Most tours in Beijing include a visit to the Temple of Heaven. You are invited to view our tours by clicking on Beijing Tours. You can choose a pre-designed program or create your own, it is your choice!

Useful information

1. Temple of Heaven, Beijing – How to get there

Heaven temple interesting facts

By subway:

  • East Gate: Take Line 5 to Tiantan Dongmen Station (天坛东门), take Exit A.
  • North Gate: Take Line 7 to Qiaowan Station (桥湾), take Exit C.
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Take a cab (show the driver the right phrase):

  • 请带我去天坛东门。
  • 请带我去天坛南门。(“Take me, please, to the South Gate of the Temple of Heaven”)

By bus:

  • South Gate: Buses 36, 53, 122, 525 or 958 to the Tiantan Nanmen stop (天坛南门).
  • West Gate: Bus 2, 17, 20, 36, 53, 71, 72, 93, 120, 622 or Metro Bus Line 1 (Bus Rapid Transit, BRT 1) to the Tiantan Ximen stop (天坛西门).

2. When the Temple of Heaven opens – Hours of operation and admission fees

  • Opening hours: April to October 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; November to March 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
  • Admission fees (April-October): Park – 15 yuan, Park + Attractions – 35 yuan
  • Admission (November-March): 10 yuan Park, 30 yuan Park + Attractions

Visit the Temple of Heaven and learn more about China’s history!

The Temple of Heaven is an iconic place with a rich history. In this way you won’t miss any interesting facts about the temple and the park, as well as learn a lot about the culture of the Celestial Empire. We will be glad to organize a customized tour to the Temple of Heaven for you, just send an inquiry to our consultants.

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