We had a day before our big Great Wall hike. The Temple of Heaven was in walking distance, so we decided to make a day of it. The Temple of Heaven refers to the main temple complex. Its architecture and stature is beautiful – no doubt about it. However, there are many reasons why this entire complex was added to UNESCO’s world heritage site.
It is older than it looks. In its current incarnation, it models the Ming and Qin dynastic constructions and coloring. However, this area has been in use since the Yellow Emperor Period (2600 BCE). It looked very different back then, but the site has yielded artifacts and writings that go back that far. The interior’s splendor really shines.
The girls were especially impressed with the dragon having eyes. They thought it looked like the dragon holding the scroll in Kung Fu Panda.
The site had several buildings where you can go in to learn about the offerings that were made. The process of offerings were remarkably similar to my understanding of current Bi-San rituals (with the scale of the offerings being different of course).
A live calf was shaved and burned in this fireplace to start the offerings. Silks, ink, jade, and food were all burnt as offering to the gods in the heaven.
The idea of burning offerings is a very old idea. No one really knows where it came from, but it is still practiced widely. The Temple of Heaven complex also has a large kitchen area and grainery, where all the food were prepared, with a decorated processional pathway to the temple. There were halls for the various members of the royal court to prepare writings as well as places for the emperor rest and sit. There were large round platforms used for solstice and equinox ceremonies. It was three concentric circles with everything being a multiple of nine. Also in the complex was the Hall of Fasting (abstinence), where the emperor would go to be free from his consorts and concubines and do purification rituals.
It’s a beautiful park with sprawling groves, playgrounds for children, and plenty of benches under shady trees. The shaded processional path to the temple was packed full of locals playing Chinese chess and cards. In the early morning hours, people do Tai Chi in the yards.
One of the big changes in post-dynastic China is the opening of these spaces to common people. For centuries, this beautiful park was off limits, now it is available to all the people. I’m glad we gave ourselves time to explore the entire park and spend some time lazing around on the benches watching life go by.