Secrets of the Temple of Heaven

Updated: 2007-07-27 08:29

A world-class artistic treasure, Beijing's Temple of Heaven has many stories behind its architectural charm. Built by Emperor ChengZu in 1420, the Temple of Heaven was used as a place of worship by a succession of emperors in the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911). The plain round altar called Huanqiu Hill, was rebuilt in 1752 during the reign of Qing Emperor Gaozong. The Qiniandian or Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests was rebuilt in 1890 under Emperor Dezong.

The Temple of Heaven is enclosed by two walls and stretches 1,700 m from east to west and 1,600 m from north to south. There are square corners in the southern side and round corners in the northern side, symbolizing the roundness of heaven. East of the front (west) gate, within the inner wall there is a zhaigong (fasting-palace) in the south for the emperor to fast and bathe before worship. Further east is a north-south vertical axis formed by the main buildings. Huanqiu is in the south with a three-layered stone terrace. Within the Beiyuan courtyard of Huanqiu is a round hall - the imperial vault where the spirit tablet of the heavenly god lies. Further north is the Qiniandian Hall accessed by Danbi Bridge.

Danbi bridge - Beijing's first overpass

Danbi Bridge is actually the main road in the Temple of Heaven and connects the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest with the Imperial Vault of Heaven. It's 360 m long and 29.4 m wide and ascends from one meter high in the south to three meters high at the northern end. The increasing height of the bridge has two meanings: first it represents the course of the emperor "stepping upward toward heaven"; and it also shows that the road from earth to heaven is long.