The Temple of Heaven
Tiantan or the Temple of Heaven (Chinese: 天坛; Pinyin: Tiān tán) was built about
600 years ago for worshiping the heaven. It is best known for the perfection of
Chinese traditional architecture and is the grandest of its kind.
Inside a huge park complex, the Temple of Heaven, or Tian Tian Gongyuan in
Chinese, is an enjoyable way to spend a leisurely morning or afternoon. The site of
imperial offerings and rites to the heavenly gods during Ming and Qing dynastic
times, it now offers visitors a view of imperial gardens and interesting architecture.
UNESCO listed the Temple of Heaven as a World Cultural Heritage Site in 1998.
Truly unique in layout and architecture, a visit to the Temple of Heaven will stay with
you as it will be like nothing you’ve ever seen before. The main buildings are round,
painted red on the bottom with intricately painted beams supporting large round blue-
Ming emperor Yongle began construction of the temple in 1420, the eighteenth year
of his reign. Yongle moved China’s capital from Nanjing to Beijing and modeled the
temple on a similar site in Nanjing. The site was rebuilt and expanded in Qing times
under emperor Jiaqing in 1530.
The site was used by emperors annually to worship the God of Heaven and pray for
good harvests. The first visit took place on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month
and the second on the winter solstice. A third visit might be required if the summer
saw a drought, the emperor would go and perform rituals to bring on rains.
Since Chinese emperors considered themselves direct descendents from heaven, it
was important for them to placate their ancestral home by performing worship rituals.
The Chinese government opened the park to the public in 1918.
• Cypress Grove: A grove of over 3,000 cypresses, the oldest of which is 600
years, surrounds the temple complex. Visitors can stroll through the trees, play chase
and hide-and-seek with the kids and generally appreciate local Chinese at play and a
break from the busy city outside the gates.
As you move toward the main complex from the cypress grove, you’ll find that the
main temples in the park are circular shaped, representing heaven, surrounded by a
square wall, representing earth. You’ll find this pattern repeated throughout the
• The Imperial Vault of Heaven: is a small round building and housed the
tablet of the God of Heaven and the emperor’s ancestors tablets. It was built in 1530
as part of Qing emperor Jiaqing’s improvements and rebuilt in 1752.
Surrounding the buildings is a semi-circular wall called Echo Wall, Huiyinbi.
Supposedly if someone whispers something at one end, a person at the other end
can clearly hear it. While technically feasible, your guide has never been there on an
occasion where there weren’t crowds of tourists doing just that so can’t vouch for the
In front of the building is a similar spectacle, the Triple Sound Stone, Sanyinshi. As
you step up the stairs toward the building, supposedly your echo will be heard once
on the first stair, twice on the second and thrice on the third. For reasons stated
above, your guide hasn’t been able to test it, but now you’ll know why there are so
many people pausing on each step as they walk toward the hall.
• Circular Mound Altar: Huanqiutan in Chinese, lies on the south axis of the
complex. This was the site of sacrifices on winter solstice. Two walls contain the alter,
the first a circle representing heaven, the second a square representing earth.
The number nine, the supreme odd number in Chinese cosmology, is utilized over
and over in the Circular Mound Altar. For example, on the top tier, a round stone
called Heaven’s Heart Stone, Tianxingshi, is surrounded by nine concentric circles. It
is lucky to stand on the center stone and you’ll have to push your way or wait in a
long line of Chinese tourists for a brief chance to stand upon it and have your photo
• The Red Stairway Bridge: or Dianbiqiao, is a long platform connecting the
Circular Mound Altar and the Hall of the Prayer of Good Harvests. It is 30m wide and
360m long and acts as a fairway for tourists walking between the two buildings. It’s
breadth and height are impressive and it’s almost possible to imagine Ming and Qing
emperors parading along the passage surrounded by an entourage.
• The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests: or Qiniandian lies to the north of the
Red Stairway Bridge. It is the last building you come to on a visit to the temple
complex and is probably the most interesting architecturally. Mirroring the
circular/square pattern, the round red wooden building supports a three-tiered blue-
tiled roof atop of which sits a gilded orb. Impressive in design, the large vault is
supported solely by twenty-eight wooden pillars: no beams or nails are used in its
construction.The hall was first built in 1420 as a rectangular building but in 1530 was
replaced with the current circular building.
in southeastern Beijing
Yongdingmen Dajie (South
Gate), Tiantan Lu (North
Gate), Chongwen District,
侧 （北入口）; 永定门内大
bus: 6, 15, 17, 20, 35, 36,
39, 105, 120, 103, 106,
110 or 116
Subway: Line 2 at
Chongwenmen or Qianmen
The main tourist entrance
is at the south gate (nan
men) so that you end your
tour with the Hall of Prayer
for Good Harvests.
(Nov. 1 to Mar. 31)
(Apr 1 to Oct 31)
6:00 am to 10:00 pm
Time for visit
half a day
Hall of Prayer for Good
Imperial Vault of Heaven
Circular Mound Altar
Hall of Abstinece
Map of the
Temple of Heaven
|Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest
Build in 1420, this circular tower sitting atop three tiers
of marble with a conical roof of blue tiles and a gold
finial, is the most beautiful building in Beijing.
The Imperial Vault of Heaven and Echo Wall
Circular Mound Altar
Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests
Location Map of The Temple of Heaven - Beijing
Location Map of The Temple Of Heaven