Temple of Heaven

temple of heaven


Situadet in the South-Eastern part of Beijing, the Temple of Heaven is the largest still existing sacrificial temple in China. It was used as the site for imperial sacrifices during the Ming and Qing dynasties. It was here that the emperor conducted the elaborate and most exalted sacrifices addressed to "the Supreme Ruler of the Universe" to ask for the heavens blessings and good harvest.

Construction of the Temple of Heaven was started in the year 1406 during the reign of the Ming Emperor Yongle. It took over 14 years to complete. Under the Qing emperors Qianlong (1736-1796) and Jiaqing (1796-1820) it was later expanded. The area of the Temple of Heaven is more than twice that of the Imperial Palace, occupying 2,668 hectares, or about 6,670 acres. The three main structures used in the sacrifices are circular, corresponding to the supposed shape of Heaven. The glazed tile roofs of the buildings are deep blue and the platforms constructed of slabs of white marble. Each of the three platforms consists of three tiers, making a total of nine tiers-nine in Chinese cosmology representing Heaven. The number and layout of every single slab used in the platforms is determined according to cosmological principles.

The Temple of Heaven served Ming and Qing dynasty emperors as a vast sacred space to perform ceremonial rites on behalf of the Chinese nation. Prior to the winter solstice, teh emperor would lead a solemn procession, which commoners were forbidden to witness, from the Forbidden City to the Temple of Heaven. At first light on the winter solstice, after a night of fasting and ritual cleansing, teh emperor would offer ritual sacrifices and make a report to heaven. He would also visit on the 15th day of the first lunar month to pray for a good harvest. The temple was vitally important to the imperial universe as it was the link between teh emperor and Heaven.