The Tian Tan - this was a place of sanctity, a site of privilege, for only the Emperor (aka the Son of Heaven) and his inner sanctum in dynastic Chinese days could use with protocol, respect and ritual. The fate of the nation, especially its agricultural wealth and status, significantly depended on the strength of prayers performed and the viability of the Mandate of Heaven. The cultural and religious head of the huge kingdom connected with the Universe and the sublime on this very chosen spot. It was the vital link between the masses and the unseen powers in the skies, through which one man, the Emperor, was the only medium of communication, power and influence.
This place of importance has circular shapes in construction, as if to replicate the roundness of the planets, the Sun and the Moon. The highest structure sits on elevated platforms, with tall pillars inside the halls and round topped roofs. The size , shape and lay out of the place is connected with astrological beliefs and practice. Grand institutions of Chinese background seem to have wide open spaces to transverse before approaching the main focus in a specific building. Here the visitor, since it was turned into a public park in 1918, can approach at will and ease, as the underlying foundations of the philosophy behind the Temple of Heaven have been under emphasised in contemporary times. In its royal past, pomp and ceremony accompanied visits performed only on days and certain hours calculated on precise pondering of the stars, astrology and the Chinese Zodiac.
Nevertheless, one does not lose the sense of vibes in the air as you explore with eye, feet and a heavy appreciation of history. Of all the cultural sites for a tourist to Beijing, the Temple of Heaven perhaps is the most kind of all in requiring exertion and climbing. I also observe the emptiness of spaces - there are no longer much furniture or adornments inside those great round shaped halls, where have they gone? In its glory, the Temple of Heaven did not look so emptied out. Now the reverence has gone, but human beings scramble over its stoned plazas. To its credit, the government does maintain restoration works and does repairs.
The other part I like about the Temple of Heaven is outside , along garden paths lined with fruiting trees and just walking along outside the inner walls. On a nice day like in September, the air is warm and the sun is kind. Why was the Temple of Heaven built on this spot? What is the relationship with Taoism and Confucianism? This is a tribute to higher powers and so separated from the earth bound goings on in the Forbidden City.
The colours that still stand out today are red, dark blue and white. They all have purposeful meanings, not just the whims of officials nor the practical choices of maintenance. Located south-east of the Forbidden City, in Dongcheng District, the complex was built in the early 15th century by the Yongle Emperor of the Ming Dynasty and renovated by the well respected Qianlong Emperor of the Manchu Qing Dynasty (1644 to 1911).
UNESCO recognised this as a world heritage cultural site in 1998. During the Boxer Rebellion, troops from the eight foreign nations which occupied Beijing desecrated the Temple of Heaven in the first decade of the 20th century. The most impressive building, the Hall of Prayers for Good Harvests, remains the most beautiful sight in proportion, stature and aesthetics. It is also remarkable for being a construction that uses no nails and all wood, reminding me of another spectacular building in Japan - the Horyu-ji Temple in Nara, with five roofed tiers. This Hall has three layers of gabled roofs with a fairy tale effect. It is also graced with marble floors.
We were expecting much with what is called the Echo Wall, surrounding the Imperial Vault of Heaven. Did we not shout not with some force from our lungs, or was there too much of a crowd that afternoon? We did not get any effect of an echo liked we hoped for. The complex itself can be accessed by four gates synchronised with the directions. Numbers play a meaningful part in Chinese culture, for example in the Hall of Prayers for Good Harvests, you can see four inner pillars, 12 middle pillars and another twelve outer pillars - they represent the four seasons, 12 months and twelve clock hours.
East of the Hall of Prayers for Good Harvests is a seven Stone Group, meant to represent the seven peaks of Tai Shan, a mountain with celestial meaning and purpose.