Situated in southern Beijing, the Temple of Heaven is the largest of its kind in the country with an area of 2.7 million square meters. It was built in 1420, the 18th year of the reign of Ming Emperor Yongle and was where emperors went to worship heaven for good harvests.
There are two parts to the temple - the inner altar and outer altar. The main buildings are in the inner altar, on the north-south axis. At the southern end are the Imperial Vault of Heaven and the Circular Mound Altar. On the northern end are the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests and Huangqian Hall. The structures at both ends are connected by a 360-meter-long walk. There is also the Hall of Abstinence inside the West Heavenly Gate which was where the emperor fasted for three days and bathed before prayer.
The temple's main building is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, where the emperor prayed for good harvests. The round hall, 38 meters high and 30 meters in diameter, has triple elves and a cone-shaped deep blue tile roof crowned with a gilded knob. Surrounding the hall is a six-meter high spacious circular stone terrace on three levels, each edged by a balustrade of carved white marble.
The Circular Mound Altar is one of the more important buildings and is a three-tier white stone terrace enclosed by two walls. Geometrically designed, the altar has a taiji rock at the center of the top terrace. If you stand on the rock and speak in a normal voice, your voice will sound louder and more resonant to yourself than to others around you, because the sound waves reflected by the balustrades and the round wall bounce back to the center.
To the north of the Circular Mound Altar is the Imperial Vault of Heaven where the memorial tablets to heaven were placed. It is smaller than the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests but is very similar in structure. The vault, made of brick and timber, is 19 meters high and 15.6 meters in diameter. It is surrounded by a circular wall of polished brick with an opening to the south. This is known as Echo Wall and is 3.72 meters high, 61.5 meters in diameter and 193 meters in circumference. If a person whispers close to the wall at any point, his voice can be heard distinctly at any other point along the wall.
Around the Hall of Abstinence are two imperial ditches and they are circled by a 163bay walkway. The Abstinence Bronze Man Pavilion and Time and Memorial Tablets Pavilion are at the Celestial Terrace of the main hall. Bells in the two bell towers at the northeast end were struck when the emperor prayed for good harvests adding to the solemnity of the occasion.
Included in the UNESCO world heritage list in 1998.
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