The Magnificient Temple of Heaven

In the center of Beijing near the famous palaces of Forbidden city lies a complex of marvelous architecture, deep history and cultural impact. This complex is proof enough of the great civilization that ruled the far-east. The temple of heaven is an intact and formidable complex which played a primary role as the site of imperial sacrifices.

The Temple of Heaven was built according to the knowledge and the relationship that the ancient Chinese had with nature and their understanding of the universe. The complex has two main structures, one is the altar for sacrifice for the heavens known as the temple for heaven and the other sacrificial altar is the temple for earth. The complex is so awe inspiring that it is difficult to imagine that this was a structure constructed in the 15th century.

Steps leading to the impressive Temple
Steps leading to the impressive Temple

The Temple of Heaven is constructed on four levels, the first three levels are representative of the different stages the universe is divided into before reaching the heavens. The first stage is the clouds, the second stage is of the phoenix, the third stage is the dragon and the last circular stage is of the heavens. The emperors of the Ming and Qin dynasties used to offer sacrifices at the altar every year to ensure good crops and good fortune.

The Phoenix level at the Temple of Heaven
The Phoenix level at the Temple of Heaven
The Dragon level at the Temple of Heaven
The Dragon level at the Temple of Heaven

The colors of the Temple have been restored to the brightness of its hay days. The complex consists of some 90 buildings all required for the elaborate ritualistic yearly sacrifice. This complex of the temple of heaven and earth is amazing because it is one of the few complete and maintained building from the imperial period.

The colors of the Temple of Heaven
The colors of the Temple of Heaven
The Tiles and courtyard at the Temple of Heaven
The Tiles and courtyard at the Temple of Heaven

The Temple of Earth is a short walk away from the Temple of Heaven. This structure mainly comprises of a circular mound on top of a elaborate steps leading to it. This circular mound is said to be a very powerful point on earth. It is also constructed in such a way that the voice of whoever speaks while on this mound resonates.

Cauldrons for burning the sacrifice
Cauldrons for burning the sacrifice
The sacrifice altar at the temple of Earth
The sacrifice altar at the temple of Earth, circular mound

The ritual for the sacrifice was exclusive and elaborate. The emperor was required to be in the proper attire and carried in a procession to the temple which was built on an incline. The Temple of Heaven and Earth was surrounded by a thick cover of trees to keep it exclusive to the imperial crown. The sacrifice consisted of bulls and other materials that were thought to be important to appease the Gods of Heaven and Earth respectively. The bull was then beaten to death and then the sacrifice would be burned in the different cauldrons with the emperor overseeing the ritual.

Gateway to the Temple of Earth
Gateway to the Temple of Earth with cloud motifs

Each motif, sculpture, building  and object within the complex has great meaning and purpose. It was very important for the emperor to complete this ritual for the whole country to have an abundant harvest. The Temple of Heaven and Earth is a major part of Chinese history. For most part when we think of history, it happens to be dominated by events that transpired in Europe and the west while equally important events were being written in Asia and elsewhere. China is one country where history was well documented and many artifacts and monuments have stood the test of time and seen the world change around them.

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