We’ve already seen the Zoo, we’ve already seen the Summer Palace, it’s time for…. no, not the Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City, still a while to go, because the weather is still somehow not ideal…. We go to the Temple of Heaven, which means we again bypass the strict center of Beijing and this time head more south of the city.
There are places that are delightful despite the lousy weather. Such was the case at the Summer Palace, which, shrouded in fog, looked straight out of a good horror movie, where one can only wait for some monster to leap out of the water to attack couples taking a romantic cruise on bicycles. Well, okay, this vision may not have been very inviting to visit, but the place was really nice and picturesque, even if it was not full sun and was even heavily hidden behind clouds. We saw impressive buildings, flowering trees and beautiful gardens that made the first vision a thing of the past.
So when the weather for the next day was still not very favorable, we decided to go to a similar place – the Temple of Heaven(Tiāntán), where we hoped for more well-kept, beautiful gardens, among which a stroll even in bad weather would be a pleasure, and quietly hoped to see the eponymous Temple in its full glory, not shrouded in fog or smog.
Table of contents
Getting to the Temple of Heaven
Traditionally, we went to the site by subway. I don’t know how it is, but we were far away everywhere. OK, the hotel was not in the very center (which we were aware of when we booked it), but it was well connected. We had about a 5-minute walk to the subway station (which we cared about the most), but we went everywhere with transfers.
Why are we writing about it? Because not everyone in our team of three enjoyed traveling by subway ;) After two days, we already knew that the key was to find the most convenient route possible – better even with more transfers, because as a rule, after 2-3 stations the crisis started and everyone on the train knew that there was a little beaver on board.
Getting to the Temple of Heaven was one of the longer ones for us (leaving aside trips outside of Beijing), so we were not optimistic. Fortunately, we also discovered that day that it’s best to hit nap time on the subway. We stayed a while longer at the hotel in order to get to the subway with the already-sleeping baby. It worked!
We got off at Tiantandongmen station, which is right next to the entrance to the complex (admittedly, there are more entrances, 4 to be exact, as many as the directions of the world). As soon as we stepped out of the subway our eyes saw a large building across the street, and on it a sign: Pearl Market and we already knew what we were going to do in the second part of the day ;) But before the shopping dubious pleasures, we went to get what we came here for.
Temple of Heaven in Beijing
At the ticket office, you can buy a combination ticket for all the attractions inside or just the open part. If you buy the cheapest one, then later, inside there are also cash registers where you can buy additional tickets. Interestingly, with a passport you can enter some buildings for free (such as the kitchen and the pavilion where animals were killed).
The entire complex is a huge sacred area (2.73 square kilometers), which, in addition to the temples, includes a park, a corridor, a wall of whispers or an altar on which offerings were given. It is a place where prayers were made to Heaven for a rich harvest. There is a lot of symbolism and numerology here, and almost every shape, every number here has a meaning and alludes to something.
An example is the shape of buildings seen from above: they are round and the bases (plazas) are square, which symbolizes heaven and earth (according to ancient Chinese beliefs, heaven is round and earth is square). Also, the shape of the entire park is a combination of a semicircle (to the north) and a square (to the south).
The most popular and impressive building is the Birth Prayer Pavilion. By the way, it is one of the most distinctive places in Beijing, it is this Pavilion that adorns postcards, magnets and covers of guidebooks (although maybe now it should be written that it is the main photo on blogs ;) ).
The pavilion sits on a three-story marble terrace, and is covered by a three-level roof. In the center are 4 central pillars symbolizing the seasons, the 12 pillars in the first circle symbolize the months, and the next 12 are symbolic of the day (12 hours as in a clock). More interestingly, the pillars supporting the structure are made of wood, and not a single nail or drop of cement was used to make them.
We recommend taking a walk around the temple, which is on a hill so that, weather permitting, you can enjoy a panoramic view of Beijing.
There is also a small panorama from the site:Please define valid width and height attributes for remote images. This will also optimize the loading time of the remote panorama.
From the Birth Prayer Pavilion to the south leads the Red Bridge, by which we reached the Imperial Vault of Heaven and the Round Altar. On the Bridge, there is a separate lane in the middle, which the emperor walked between the buildings, and is now used by visitors to perfectly position themselves for a photo with the Temple of Heaven in the background ;)
The Round Altar was the most important place in the complex – here the emperor offered sacrifices. Here the number 9 rules: on the upper level there are 9 stone circles, each with 9 stones. The middle and lower levels also have 9 circles each, and in addition, the number of stairs and railings is divisible by 9 (admittedly, we didn’t count, but we’ll take your word for it). There is also a wooden temple called the Imperial Vault of Heaven, a sort of smaller copy of the Birth Prayer Pavilion along with the Wall of Whispers.
As we mentioned, there are more buildings on the grounds that you can also look into, such as the Animal Killing Pavilion, where oxen, sheep and other poor animals were sacrificed.
If you have a moment, the former kitchen area is also worth a look. Although during our stay the biggest attraction there was the… Olive ;)
We particularly liked the long corridor, similar to the one we saw at the Summer Palace, but it’s different here. Decorations aside, the atmosphere here is more pleasant and family-oriented. Walking around, every now and then you can see groups of elderly people coming together to spend a quiet afternoon and play cards or checkers.
Unfortunately, the place is not handicapped- and stroller-accessible, something we are slowly starting to get used to (in Beijing).
Is it worth it?
It took us slightly more than 2 hours to tour the entire complex, and it was definitely worth coming here. The well-maintained grounds offer the possibility of even a longer tour with a dose of peaceful relaxation :)
After the tour we went to eat something and went shopping at the aforementioned Chinese market, but about that another time ;)