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Temple of Heaven

The temple of heaven was the place where the Emperor of the Ming and Qing dynasties would worship heaven and pray for good harvests. Built first in 1420, and then expanded and reconstructed, the Temple of Heaven is a precious example of China 's ancient architectural art and the largest architectural structure for worshipping heaven in the world.

Every year at the winter solstice, the Ming and Qing emperors would come here to pray in a magnificent procession lasting several days. This was designed to bless next year 's crops and curry favor with Heaven for the general health of the empire. This ceremony lasted until 1914. Before the ritual, the emperor would fast in the Hall of Abstinence. Then he would offer sacrifices and prayers at the Altar of Heaven, a stone terrace of three levels. The lowest tier symbolizes the Earth, the second the world of human beings, and the last, Heaven.

The architecture and layout of the temple of heaven is based on elaborate symbolism and numerology. In accordance with principles dating back to pre-Confucian times, the buildings in the Temple of Heaven are round, like the sky, while the foundations and axis of the complex are rectilinear, like the earth. The most prominent building in the temple's complex is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. 38.2 meters (125 ft) in height and 24.2 metes (79 ft) in diameter, it is supported by immense pillars. The painted roof has 50,000 blue glazed tiles and a golden point.

Whereas in Imperial times commoners were not allowed to enter the enormous park, now for a minimal fee you can enjoy it all day long. Were you to visit at dawn you'd be surprised by the number of people there performing their morning exercises. Next to an older person practicing the slow and flowing movements of Tai Qi, there might be a younger one performing vigorous karate-like punches and kicks. One group might be learning the ancient martial art of sword-fighting, while another might be practicing a traditional dance. Should you have the energy and the inclination, it is well worth waking up early one morning and visiting this park to watch such events take place.

Temple of Heaven Temple of Heaven
The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests in the Temple of Heaven park. The roof with sky-blue glazed tiles

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