Our day began with a visit to Beijing Zoo which is situated in the Xicheng District, and was the first of its kind in China. It contains a diverse collection of animals, a number of exhibition halls and some sites of historical interest but we were there mainly to see the giant pandas. Indeed, as we were on a fairly tight schedule that's really all we had time to see. It seemed that many others who were visiting the zoo were also there to see the giant pandas too. Naturally there was a shop in the area where the pandas were housed where I once again succumbed to temptation, buying some panda toothbrush holders for the grandchildren so not much of a big spend! Money duly parted with and after a search for another green bean ice cream, we once again returned to the bus to be driven to see the Temple of Heaven.
Located in the Chongwen District of Beijing the Temple of Heaven Park is larger than the Forbidden City and was just gorgeous. Originally, this was the place where emperors of the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644) and Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911) held the
Heaven Worship Ceremony. It is the largest and most representative existing masterpiece among China's ancient sacrificial buildings. First built in 1420, the 18th year of the reign of Emperor Yongle of the Ming Dynasty, Temple of Heaven was enlarged and rebuilt during the reigns of the Ming emperor Jiajing and the Qing emperor Qianlong. In 1988, it was opened to the public as a park, showcasing ancient philosophy, history and religion. Its grand architectural style and profound cultural connotation give an insight into the practices of the ancient Eastern civilisation.
Thanks to Wikipedia I discovered that the temple was occupied by the Anglo-French Alliance during the Second Opium War. In 1900, during the Boxer Rebellion, the Eight Nation Alliance occupied the temple complex and turned it into the force's temporary command in Beijing, which lasted for one year. The occupation desecrated the temple and resulted in serious damage to the building complex and the garden. Robberies of temple artifacts by the Alliance were also reported. With the downfall of the Qing, the temple complex was left un-managed. The neglect of the temple complex led to the collapse of several halls in the following years. Following which in
1914, Yuan Shikai, then President of the Republic of China, performed a Ming prayer ceremony at the temple, as part of an effort to have himself declared Emperor of China. In 1918 the temple was turned into a park and for the first time open to the public.
But before we went to see the temple itself we practised some Tai Chi with an expert in the martial arts system which places emphasis on the development and control of Chi energy (consciousness) with the body. That was a bit of fun although, for me, not quite as interesting as it was when I joined an early morning group at the Hoam Kiem Lake in Hanoi, Vietnam a couple or so years ago.
After the Tai Chi episode we were off to see the buildings themselves which are part of the Temple of Heaven. The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests was the main eye catching building which is probably the most photographed. It is a magnificent triple-gabled circular building, 36 m in diameter and 38 m tall, built on three levels of marble stone base, where the Emperor prayed for good harvests. The building
is completely wooden, with no nails. The original building was burned down by a fire caused by lightning in 1889 with the current building re-built several years after the incident.
The Temple of Heaven Park was the last Beijing attraction which Kitty took us to see. Once all back on the bus we were driven to the Beijing South Railway Station where we were to catch the bullet train to Hangzhou. Kitty escorted us to the queue to board out train. It was there we sadly said our goodbyes and expressed our sincere thanks for the wonderful job she had done in showing us a little bit of her home country. After a wait standing in the queue of over an hour we were finally on the train and able to sit down. Roughly six hours later we were in Hangzhou; before long settled into the Hangzhou Tangbang Hotel for another good nights rest.
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