Temple of Heaven is not a single building but a complex located in the southern end of central Beijing. Constructed between 1406 and 1420 during the reign of the Ming dynasty Emperor Yongle (who was also responsible for the construction of the Forbidden City - See article above). The temple was used by the emperor to make offerings to the heaven and to prey for a good harvest.
The Temple of Heaven was originally known as the Temple of Heaven and Earth, but this was changed during the reign of Ming Emperor JiaJing (1522-1567), who built separate complexes for the earth, sun and moon.
Occupying an area of 273 hectares (676 Acres) The Temple of Heaven lies on a central north-south axis and is surrounded by gardens. The gardens are used for exercising, practicing tai chi, jian zi, wu shu, singing and dancing. They are also used for flying kites and playing musical instruments, board games and badminton. The gardens contain numerous trees with some of the cypress trees being several hundreds of years old.
The complex consists of a number of buildings which include walkways, pavilions and halls. The halls are now being used as a museum to exhibit artifacts and tell the story of the complex. The three main buildings are the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, Imperial Vault of Heaven and the Circular Mound Altar.The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest is a round (symbolic of the Heaven) 38 meters tall and 30 meters in diameter. It stands on a round foundation built with a three-tier marble terrace. The triple-eave hall has a three-story, cone-shaped roof in blue glazed tiles crowned with a gilded knob. The building, as it is today, was commissioned by Qing dynasty emperor Qianlong in 1751 and is held together purely with joints as no nails are used.
A circular wall of polished bricks known as the Echo Wall encloses the Imperial Vault of Heaven. This is similar to the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, although smaller in size; it is made of bricks and timber and is surrounded by white marble railings. It was used to place memorial tablets. The Circular Mount Altar, is south of the Imperial Vault of Heaven, and is where the emperor would make offerings to the heaven and to prey for a good harvest.
During the Second Opium War (1856 to 1860) the temple was occupied by the Anglo-French Alliance and then again in 1900, during the Boxer Rebellion, when it was used as the Alliance force's command centre in Beijing. The occupation resulted in serious damage to the buildings and the garden and the theft of the temple artifacts. The subsequent years resulted in neglect which led to the collapse of several halls. The temple was turned into a park and opened to the public in 1918. It was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1998. In 2005 - 2006, it underwent a major renovation which cost 6 million United States dollars.
To see more photographs and take a virtual tour of the site click on the photoshow below.