The highlight of the Temple of Heaven is the Hall of Prayer for
Gdod Harvest. The hall was originally built in 1420 based on a model of the Temple of
Heaven and Earth in Nanjing. At that time, it was called the Hall of Great Sacrifice. In
1530, the Temple of Earth was built in the northern part of Beijing, so only heaven was
worshipped here. The hall was restored in 1751 and given its present name. In 1889,
lightning caused extensive fire damage to the hall, but fortunately it was reconstructed.
The hall is a
cone-shaped structure with triple eaves. Originally, the triple eaves were painted in
different colors. The top was blue, which symbolized Heaven, the middle was yellow to
symbolize the emperor and the bottom was green to represent commoners. During the Emperor
Qianlong's reign (1736-1795), all the eaves were painted blue to follow the color of the
A six meter high,
triple-tiered circular stone terrace forms the base of the structure. The hall is 32
meters high and 30 meters in diameter. In the past, the hall was one of the highest
buildings in Beijing. Despite its size, only 28 massive wooden pillars support the entire
A number of wooden
bars, laths and brackets join the entire structure together. Steel and cement were not
used. The four large pillars in the center are known as the Dragon Well Pillars with each
pillar representing one of the four seasons. The other 24 pillars are arranged in two
circles surrounding the four central ones. The 12 inner pillars represent the 12 months of
the year and the 12 outer pillars represent the divisions of day and night.
framework is extremely intricate. The first or the lowest roof rests on a circular
framework that is supported by the 24 outer pillars. The second roof partially rests on
the 12 inner pillars and partially in the circle itself which is supported by crossbeams
that are connected to the four Dragon Well Pillars. The third and highest roof rests on
the four central pillars and on eight shorter pillars that are built on the same circular
framework. A dragon is carved into the center of the ceiling and it represents supreme
power and royalty.
A round marble
stone called the dragon and Phoenix stone lies in the center of the room. Its name comes
from pattern of the stone which resembles a dragon and phoenix.
The tablets of
heaven and the tablets of dead emperor are found on the platforms. The tablets of heaven
are in the center. Silk fabrics, jade carvings, fruit wines and other such items were
placed in front of each tablet as an offering. Also, a pig, sheep or a cow was sacrificed
at each ceremony.
blue-roofed buildings stood on either side of the courtyard. These buildings originally
served as annexes; however, the west building is now a souvenir shop and the east one is
an exhibition room for all the musical instruments used in the ceremony.
The Hall of Zenith
is located on the lower level north of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest. The tablets
for the ceremony of prayer were usually kept in the Hall of Zenith. There are many
wax statutes that illustrate what an imperial ceremony was like.
Click here to see the map of the Temple of Heaven