In ancient China, sacrificing Temple played an important role in royal lives. The Temple of Heaven in Beijing is the unique one that has been preserved complex; it is the most outstanding works among all the worship construction works. Both from the total point or every separate part possess wondrous artistic values and cultural importance.
The Temple of Heaven was completed in 1420 and was originally a platform for the Son of Heaven (the emperor) to perform sacrifices and solemn rites. It covers an area of 273 hectares, smaller than the Summer Palace while bigger than the Forbidden City.
On the whole, the Temple of Heaven is surrounded by a long wall, which has divided the Temple of Heaven into two parts according to its shapes. The northern part is semicircular standing for the heavens and the southern part is in square representing the earth. Clearly to see, they are on different levels that the northern part is much more higher. Such kind of structure typically reflected an old thinking that the heaven is high and the earth is low, and The heaven is round and the earth is square. The temple could be divided by the enclosed wall into inner and outer spaces. The main buildings were basically in the inner part and they have been laid mainly in the central axis from southward to northward.
Temple of Heaven is the place where the Ming and Qing Dynasty showed their deep respect to God. The sacrifice Ceremony had played an important role in royal life, both for homage of the emperors Sons of Heaven and grand vouchsafement from Heaven. Emperors came to the temple twice a year, on the 15th day of the first lunar month and on winter solstice respectively. If there happened to be a drought, they would come on summer solstice to pray for rainfall.
The Emperors amid his guard of honour, paraded towards the Temple of Heaven. The procession is used for worship of Heaven is the most honorable of all and ranks highest in the ceremonial hierarchy. The emperor dismounted at the Zhaoheng Gate of the temple and, accompanied by ritual officials, inspected the preparation work before he retreated into the Hall of Abstinence. And this is the prologue to the great ceremony of Heaven worship. The ceremony began at four o'clock in the morning. Accompanied by ten ministers, the emperor ascended onto the altar when the great bell was struck, warning all officials present to stand by at attention.
The worship began with burning sacrifice, when the official of ceremony chanted and the sacred oven blazed. Then a complete calf, slaughtered for offering, was sacrificed upon the oven. Twelve iron ovens, eight in front of the sacred oven and four at the gates of the altar, served for burning pine tree boughs. The boughs burst in fire, giving off fragrant smells that would lustrate devils and take humans prayer up to the Heaven. Next to the iron ovens is a divine mausoleum. The tail of the calf was to be buried in it together with its blood and fur to memories the ancestors who ate raw meat and blood before the invention of fire.
On the Circular Mound Altar the emperor reported to Heaven what have come to pass in the last year and what he had accomplished, confessed his mistakes and begged for pardon, and plead Heaven to forgive with his sacrifice and to give blessing and grace to this world in the next year. The altar was then lighted by three light posts 36 meters high. The dark sky was also lighted as if by early morning glow. In ancient times the emperor gave signals with the lights so that the dukes and princes, far away in their feudalities, knew that his majesty was worshiping Heaven and in piety. Signal lights enlisted all ordinaries in the capital that saw them into this great ceremony.
All the palaces and platforms face southward to form in a circular shape to symbolize the heaven. The most significant buildings are the Circular Mound Altar (YuanQiuTan), Imperial Vault of Heaven (HuangQiongYu) and the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest (QiNianDian). Besides, some famous architecture as Three Echo Stones and Echo Wall are also worth visiting.
Circular Mound Altar - YuanQiuTai
YuanQiuTai, the Circular Mound Altar, is the place where the emperors worship Heaven. The Alter is located in the center of the upper terrace, from where anything the emperors say, their voice would be amplified many times by surrounded concentrically arranged flagstones.
Imperial Vault of Heaven - HuangQiongYu
Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest - QiNianDian
The Imperial Vault of Heaven looks like a dark-blue umbrella with golden head from far away. It is similar to the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest (QiNianDian) in construction, but much more smaller than it. The Hall of Good Harvest is the most obvious one among all the halls within Temple of Heaven. Its in a unique cone-shaped structure with triple eaves without beams and nails. The three-layer top is just supported by 28 large columns. Its special lattice doors and windows also contribute as its unique features. In a word, it is an excellent distillation of ancient China.
Three Echo Stones and the Echo Wall
The special settings that would draw tourists attention are typically the Three Echo Stones and the Echo Wall. Outside the gate of the Hall of Imperial Vault of Heaven is the Three Echo Stones. If one face to the direction of the Hall, just try to speak on the first stone, on echo will be heard; and the second and third will receive two and three echoes respectively.
As for the well-known Echo Wall, it is about 65.1 meters in diameter surround the Vault. If two persons standing separately in both the east and west end, no matter how low their voice is, they could hear each other clearly. It is a somewhat incredible and indelible experience.
The Temple of Heaven is equal to the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace; there is no doubt that it is worth traveling.