I have always been captivated by images of this marvelous, triple roofed, vibrantly painted building. Supposedly built entirely of wood without using a single nail, ‘The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests’ is considered one of the best examples of traditional Chinese architecture.
Imagine my surprise then, to discover that this building is not actually a temple and does not house the main altar of the Temple of Heaven. That its blue glazed gables, were originally painted blue, yellow and green, to denote Heaven, Emperor and nature AND that the timber used for the rebuilding in 1892, was shipped all the way from – no kidding – Oregon in the US of A! I caught myself wondering, if the glaze on those shiny pillars could be melamine (It is not). Still, at 36 metres wide and 38 metres tall it is a gorgeous building and worthy of admiration.
‘Tiantian’ as the Temple of Heaven is called in Mandarin, actually refers to the main altar and the oldest and holiest part of this complex, the ‘Altar of Heaven’. This is a single flat round stone, set in the centre of nine concentric cricles of stone paving, in multiples of nine. Nine being an auspicious number representing the Emperor. The altar was originally paved with blue glazed tiles and replaced with the present marble in the 17th century.
The ancient ritual of the worship of Heaven and Earth in the holy Mount Tianshan was started by – who else but First emperor Qin Shuang Di. It was shifted here by the Ming Emperor Yongle in 1420, when he moved his capital to Beijing from Nanjing. A total of 22 Emperors worshiped here by the time China became a republic.
By all accounts a glorious ceremony that started with the emperor, in his role as representative of Heaven, leading a grand procession from the Forbidden city to the Hall of abstinence, where he was expected to repent & cleanse himself of his sins before he could ascend the ‘Tiantian’. I wonder how long it took, Yongle, the usurper of his nephew’s throne and the murderer of his (the nephews) entire clan, feel cleansed enough to communicate with God?
The real charm of the Temple of Heaven lies not in its hallowed architecture but in its vibrant atmosphere. We walked around a while taking in the happy vibe. Groups of people chatting, exercising, dancing, playing. A place of relaxation for common citizens that was once as forbidden to them as the Forbidden City.
Until next time…..happy travels, no matter where life takes you!