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The Great Wall at Mutianyu
There is no doubt that the Great Wall comes first among the landmarks of Beijing. It is the longest wall in the world, at a length of 21,196 km (13,170 miles). Its construction started during the Warring States Period (770–221 BC) and lasted over 2,300 years.
Sections of the Great Wall are located in 15 different provinces, though some of the best-preserved and most spectacular sections are in and around Beijing.
Mutianyu is the most magnificent fully-restored section of the Great Wall, popular among foreign travelers. Badaling is the most popular section among Chinese tourists and more crowded. If you have no idea which section to visit, read Badaling or Mutianyu: Which is Better for Visiting? for some inspiration.
If you are a hiker, the Jinshanling and Jiankou sections may be best for you. If you would like to see some different scenery, try a night-trip to the Simatai section of the wall. It is the only section open for night tours. Read more on The Best 10 Sections/Parts of the Great Wall to Visit.
Though Beijing is a relatively short distance from the sea, the general air circulation in the region is mainly from the northwest throughout the year maritime effects on the region’s weather are meagre. The climate is clearly of the continental monsoon type that occurs in the temperate zone. Local topography also has a great effect on Beijing’s climate. Because it lies in a lowland area and is protected by mountains, the city is a little warmer in winter than other areas of China located at the same latitude nonetheless, the mean monthly temperature drops below 50 °F (10 °C) for five months out of the year. In addition, wind direction in Beijing is influenced by topography, with changes occurring from day to night. Generally, there are more southerly winds in the day but northerly or northwesterly winds at night.
The annual mean temperature of the city is 53 °F (12 °C). The coldest month is January, when the monthly mean is 24 °F (–4 °C), and the warmest month is July, when it is 79 °F (26 °C). In an average year, the city experiences 132 days of freezing temperatures between October and March the mean annual precipitation is 25 inches (635 mm), with most of the total falling from June to August. July is ordinarily the wettest month of the year, with an average of 9 inches (230 mm).
One of the characteristics of the region’s precipitation is its variability. In 1959—an extremely wet year for Beijing—the total precipitation amounted to 55 inches (1,400 mm), whereas in 1891—an extremely dry year—only 7 inches (180 mm) fell. The average number of rainy days per year is about 80, and the average relative humidity for the city is 57 percent.
Winter in Beijing is long and usually begins in late October, when northwesterly winds gradually gain strength. This seasonal wind system dominates the region until March the Siberian air that passes southward over the Mongolian Plateau and into China proper is cold and dry, bringing little snow or other precipitation. The monthly mean temperature from December to February is below freezing. Spring, the windiest season, is short and rapidly becomes warm. The prevailing high spring winds produce an evaporation rate that averages about nine times the total precipitation for the period and frequently is sufficient to cause droughts that are harmful to agriculture. Dust storms in the region, exacerbated by increasing desertification in Inner Mongolia, are common in April and May. In addition to being the season of torrential rains, summer is rather hot, as warm and humid air from the southeast often penetrates into North China. Autumn begins in late September and is a pleasant, though short, season with clear skies and comfortable temperatures.
Temple of Heaven
Originally built in 1420 during the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644), the Temple of Heaven is located in the southeastern part of the former outer city of Beijing, to the southeast of the Forbidden City and to the east of Zhengyangmen. This is where the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties held ceremonies to worship heaven and to pray for good harvests. By comparison, the other temple of heaven in Xian is much less well-known.
The early Chinese conception of their world was that 'The heaven is round and the earth is square'. The ancient Chinese called the vast universe heaven which was said to be like a closed circle going round and round. The land upon which mankind depended for survival was called the earth. This was said to be a square platform bearing all of the creatures on it. As civilization developed, people gradually began to advocate unity between heaven and mankind. The Temple of Heaven is just one special symbol of the ancient Chinese's world outlook on the world.
According to historical records, the earliest ceremonies of heaven and earth worship can be traced back to the Xia Dynasty (21st - 17th Century BC). Ancient Chinese emperors considered themselves the sons of heaven, so they gave much respect to both heaven and earth. Every emperor , throughout the Chinese, regarded the worshipof heaven as a very important political activity. Sacrificial temples occupied a pivotal position in the construction of the capital and were always constructed using the most perfect arts, most advanced technology as well as the largest available labor force, materials and money. As the most representative work of these ancient sacrificial sites, the Temple of Heaven is both a bright pearl of the architecture of ancient China and a treasure in the history of construction.
The main buildings of the Temple of Heaven form part of the inner altar, along a straight south to north axis. All the palaces and bases are round and face south, symbolizing heaven. The groups can be divided into Circular Mound Altar, the Altar of Prayer for Good Harvests, the Palace of Abstinence and the Devine Music Administration. The four complexes performed their specific functions, constituting the core of the royal temple.
The Circular Mound Altar complex consists of the Zhaoheng Gate, the Circular Mound Altar, the South Divine Kitchen, the Imperial Vault of Heaven, the Echo Wall, the Three Echo Stones, the Dialogue Stone and the Chengzhen Gate. This is the very core of the Temple of Heaven. Besides the wonderful workmanship of the architectures, the acoustical principles blended in these buildings are also outstanding. Many buildings here relate to the number 9, as it represented the imperial power in ancient China.
Situated in the north of the Temple of Heaven, the Altar of Prayer for Good Harvests complex is the place for where the emperors prayed to heaven in early springs for good harvests. The main buildings here are the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, the East and West Annex Halls, the Gate of Prayer for Good Harvests, Imperial Hall of Heaven, the Long Corridor and the Butcher Pavilion. Of these, the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is regarded as the symbol of Beijing's ancient cultural and exhibited with many fine cultural relics.
The Palace of Abstinence, located in the southwest of the inner altar of the Altar of Prayer for Good Harvests, was where the Ming and Qing emperors would fast prior to the worship of heaven ceremony. It is mainly made up of the Beamless Hall, the Resting Hall, the Bell Tower, the Timetable Pavilion and some other buildings for living, guarding and etiquettes. Apart from the palace itself, you can also enjoy the fast exhibition. When touring around, you will probably note there is a ditch both inside and outside of the palace, which are the same as the moats in the Forbidden City. The only difference is that there is no water is in the royal ditches.
The Devine Music Administration near to the Palace of Abstinence in the southwest is where training for both ceremonial dancers and musicians was provided. The Devine Music Administration complex includes the Ningxi Hall, the Xianyou Hall, the Attached Halls of Devine Music Administration and the Gate of Devine Music Administration. At present, the Attached Halls of Devine Music Administration has been changed into the ancient royal music exhibition hall consisting of Harps Hall, Flutes Hall, Lyrics Hall, Dance Hall and Drum Hall. All of the exhibitions staged in the halls are relevant to music and musical instruments. In the Ningxi Hall, the main palace of the Devine Music Administration, there are also live music shows by professional musicians.
Being regarded as a rare treasure at home and abroad, the Temple of Heaven enjoys considerable fame for its long history and magnificent buildings the world over. The best time to visit it is in spring and autumn. It is also a good time to visit it in winter if you want to appreciate those acoustical buildings, since it is less crowded than in the peak season.
CNY 15 (Apr. to Oct.) CNY 10 (Nov. to Mar.)
CNY 35 (Apr. to Oct.) CNY 30 (Nov. to Mar.)
Take Bus No. 6, 34, 35, 36, 39, 41, 43, 60, 116, 610 707, 723, 743, 957 or 958 and get off at the East Gate of Temple of Heaven (Tiantan Dongmen)
Take Bus No. 36 (Loop Line), 53, 120, 122, 525, 610 800, 803 or 958 and get off at the South Gate of Temple of Heaven (Tiantan Nanmen)
Take Bus No. 2, 7, 15, 17, 20, 69, 105, 707, 729 or 826 and get off at the West Gate of Temple of Heaven (Tiantan Ximen)
Take Bus No. 6, 34, 35, 36 (Loop Line), 106, 110, 687, 707 or 743 and get off at the North Gate of Temple of Heaven (Tiantan Beimen)
Take Subway Line 5 and get off at the East Gate of Temple of Heaven (Tiantan Dongmen).
Beijing, Tiantan, Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest
The Temple of Heaven is a complex of Taoist buildings situated in the southeastern part of central Beijing. The complex was visited by the Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties for annual ceremonies of prayer to Heaven for good harvest. It is regarded as a Taoist temple, although Chinese Heaven worship, especially by the reigning monarch of the day, pre-dates Taoism.
In ancient China, the Emperor of China was regarded as the Son of Heaven, who administered earthly matters on behalf of, and representing, heavenly authority. To be seen to be showing respect to the source of his authority, in the form of sacrifices to heaven, was extremely important. The temple was built for these ceremonies, mostly comprising prayers for good harvests.
Twice a year the Emperor and all his retinue would move from the Forbidden city through Beijing to encamp within the complex, wearing special robes and abstaining from eating meat. No ordinary Chinese was allowed to view this procession or the following ceremony. In the temple complex the Emperor would personally pray to Heaven for good harvests. The highpoint of the ceremony at the winter solstice was performed by the Emperor on the Earthly Mount. The ceremony had to be perfectly completed it was widely held that the smallest of mistakes would constitute a bad omen for the whole nation in the coming year.
The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is a triple-gabled circular building, 36 metres in diameter and 38 metres 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. The current building was re-built several years after the incident.
Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests
The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is a circular building which is 32 meters (105 feet) in diameter and 38 meters (125 feet) high, sitting on a huge round white marble platform named Altar for Grain Prayers. Covering over 5,900 square meters (64,000 square feet), the altar has a height of six meters, consisting of three floors each of which is surrounded by carved white marble railings. The stairs connecting each floor are decorated with huge relief.
The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests has three layers of eaves each layer is covered with blue colored glaze symbolizing the heaven. The layer-by-layer eave creates an atmosphere of getting closer to heaven.
The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is a masterpiece of wood frame construction. Inside the hall there is no beam, but 28 Phoebe columns and 36 pieces of interconnected squared rafters. These large columns have different symbolic meanings: The four posts along the inner circle represent the four seasons - spring, summer, autumn and winter the 12 posts along the middle circle represent the 12 months and the 12 along the outer circle represent 12 Shichen (an ancient Chinese timing unit equaling two hours). The ceiling and the columns are decorated with fine colorful paintings. In the central hall, there is a flat circular marble with naturally formed dragon and phoenix patterns, and the name "dragon and phoenix stone" was thus given. According to legend, originally the stone only had a phoenix pattern, while there was a dragon pattern on the ceiling. As time went by, the dragon and the phoenix fell in love with each other. The dragon always flew down to date with the phoenix. Unexpectedly, one day, Emperor Jiajing (1507－1567) of the Ming Dynasty held a worship ceremony in the hall, and knelt down on the stone. It was too late for the dragon to fly back and it was pressed into the stone forever. Today you can see the dragon and the phoenix together on the stone. Standing in the middle of the hall, the Sacred Altar is the most sacred part, on which the Heaven Great Tablet is placed. On the eastern and western sides of the Sacred Altar stand four ancestral tablets of Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911) respectively.
On the two sides of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests are the West Annex Halls and the East Annex Halls. The two annex halls used to be the storeroom of divine tablets. Now the West Annex Halls are set as a Worshipping Heaven Ceremony Exhibition Hall, displaying sacrificial utensils and the whole procedure about worshipping heaven by the emperor. There is an excellent picture about Emperor Qianlong (1711-1799) showing the highest ritual in the Qing Dynasty. The East Annex Halls are now changed into a Worshipping Music and Dancing Hall, exhibiting Shao Music instruments, such as bells and chimes. By means of text description, pictures, light boxes, models, sound and electricity, etc., the music and dancing scene of the ceremony is vividly demonstrated to the visitors.
5. Royal Building Not Built on the Central Axis of Beijing
Almost all important ancient buildings in Beijing were built on the axis of Beijing city expect for the Temple of Heaven, which is located a little east of the axis. Do you wonder why such an essential architecture is not on the central axis? The answer is that this location is chosen based on the orientation of the sun. According to the Books of Changes, the southeast of the Forbidden City receives the strongest sunlight all year around, so it is the best place for building Temple of Heaven.
The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest
The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is the highlight of the Temple of Heaven. Original built in 1420 (during the reign of Emperor Yongle), the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests was the earliest building of the Temple of Heaven, and was also called the Hall of Great Sacrifice.
In 1751 (during the reign of Qianlong), it was restored and named the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. The hall was destroyed by a thunderbolt in 1889 (during the reign of Guangxun) and rebuilt as it was a few years later.
The hall is a cone-shaped structure with triple eaves. The circular hall is 32 meters in diameter and 38 meters high, with a gilded knob on the top, and three double eaves on the way up. The blue eaves are covered with blue glazed tiles, symbolic of the sky.
The internal structure of the hall is unique, using 28 massive wooden pillars and 36 square rafters, interlocked without nails to support the entire structure. There is no steel and cement used.
The four dragon pillars in the center are 19 meters high and 1.2 meters in diameter, representing the four seasons. The twelve gold pillars in the middle circle represent the 12 months of the year, and the 12 pillars in the outer circle represent the 12 divisions of day and night.
The 24 pillars together in the middle and outer circles represent the twenty-four solar terms of a year. And the 28 pillars taken together represent the lunar mansions. A circular marble stone with naturally-occurring dragon and phoenix patterns lies in the center of the hall.
The hall lies on the a circular marble base, which covers an area of 5,900 square meters, six meters high and divided into three tiers. Each floor has marble railings with flowery carvings. There are other rectangular, blue-roofed buildings standing around the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests.
- Entry is included in the ticket cost for the Temple of Heaven.
- The best times to visit are spring and autumn.
- Open hours: 8:00am – 5:30pm
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The Imperial Vault of Heaven
Connected to the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, by the Vermillion Steps is The Imperial Vault of Heaven, located at the center of the plaza. The single-gabled building is circulated by the smooth Echo Wall, famous for its feature of transmitting sounds from one end to the other.
Temple Of Heaven Travelling Tips
-The Temple of Heaven can get very busy during the peak season. Try to visit during off-peak travel times. This is between November and April. If you have to come during the peak season, the earlier you can arrive, the better.
-Tickets cost 1 – 28 RMB during off-peak and 15 – 35 RMB during peak season.
-To enter some parts of the Temple complex, you will need your passport and ID, so make sure to bring them with you.
-The Ticket offices close between 12 and 1 pm for a break. Make sure to arrive earlier or later than this.
-How about bringing a picnic? The food here is not too great, and it’s also expensive. A simple Chinese picnic can go a long way to making the day easier – especially with all the walking.
-If you’re coming by metro (or leaving), the closest station is on line 5, Tiantan Dongmen station (Exit at either A1 or A2).