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Published: October 28th 2006
Looking in Awe
The magnificent Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, a truly stunning piece of architecture. It is mounted on a three-tiered marble terrace with each level surrounded by white marble ballustrades arranged in multiples of 9, the celestial number. The ceiling is supported by 28 wooden pillars, no beams, nails or cement were used.
There are numerous Temple complexes spread around and close to Beijing, but it would take numerous visits to this great city to view and appreciate them all. This blog will feature just two, Temple of Heaven (Tiantan) and Lama Temple.
Temple of Heaven
The spectacular Temple of Heaven complex is located a few minutes south of the Palace Museum in one of the cities’ most popular parks. It is possible to get a park only ticket, but I chose the “all inclusive” option (tao piao) to allow closer inspection of the temple complex itself.
The temple complex is surrounded by a double wall, separating the temple into two parts-inner and outer temples, with the main structures found in the inner one. The inner temple complex is then divided into two main clusters of buildings, north and south. The northern cluster is laid out in the shape of a semicircle representing heaven, the southern cluster in a square layout that represents the earth. The most impressive building in the whole complex is found in the northern group and is called the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. It is considered to be a perfect example of Ming Architecture, although this
Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests
There are reportedly 50,000 blue-glazed tiles making up the triple layered roof. Blue symbolizes heaven.
particular building was rebuilt in 1890 after a fire burned it to the ground the year before.
The Temple of Heaven served as a place of ritual from the time it was built in 1420 right up until 1914. Every year at the time of the winter solstice the emperor would come here in a great procession in order to honour his ancestors and to pray for a good harvest for the year to come. Ceremonies would last for several days and included animal sacrifices to heaven.
Unfortunately on the day I visited a sizeable part of the complex was closed off for restoration purposes. This included both the Fasting Palace/Palace of Abstinence where the emperor would retire for three days prior to performing the sacrificial rites, and the famous Echo Wall, a circular wall where supposedly you can hear each other’s whispers from one end to another. I doubt if it ever would be quiet enough to test this phenomenon anyway!
Despite this, I spent a number of hours wandering around, marvelling at the fantastic architecture, enjoying the tranquillity of the surrounding gardens and lucked upon a performance of ancestral music when I wandered into the
Figures of Prestige
This roof feature emphasies its connection with the earth as shown in the green-glazed tiles. The number of figurines also shows this roof belonged to a building housing one of the more important officials of the court escorting the emperor. They were believed to be protective against lightning and fire.
Divine Music Administration building (located near the West Celestial Gate). I was also to enjoy more music when I was drawn to the Long Corridor located in the East part of the outer complex. This is a popular place for older Beijingers to congregate, sing, play music on classical instruments, play cards or mahjong. Very entertaining to say the least. If I had come earlier in the day I could have probably witnessed some of these same people practising their Tai Chi, sword fighting or ballroom dancing.
The Lama Temple is one of Beijing’s most beautiful and interesting temples. It is located just a 10 minute walk from where I was staying, so was easily accessible without having to spend a long time on buses or the subway. Otherwise known as Yonghegong (Palace of Eternal Harmony), it is the most renowned Tibetan Buddhist temple outside of Tibet itself. It is currently also undergoing extensive restoration work with workmen chiselling the paint away roughly from the ancient wood. It made me cringe to think of the damage they were possibly inflicting! The complex has a great drum and bell tower, fantastic roof lines, decorative arches and an impressive
25m statue of the Maitreya Buddha that is carved out of a single piece of sandalwood. The latter is even verified by the Guiness Book of Records! I also enjoyed seeing that the locals came and went from a little side door, without entrance fee so they could pay their respects to Buddha as part of their daily routine. Another great touch was the mini DVD that was given instead of a normal cardboard entrance ticket tracing the history of the complex and giving an insight into life in the lamasery. Great marketing!
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