Tiantan - Temple of Heaven Park II
- The Round Altar Platform -
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Constructed in the year 1530 AD, in the Ninth Year of the Jiajing Reign (Reign: 1521 AD - 1567 AD Emperor Shizong) of the Ming Dynasty (1368 AD - 1644 AD), the rounded Altar served as the
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When much later, in the year 1749 AD during the Reign of Qianlong of the succeeding Qing Dynasty (1644 AD - 1911 AD), the entire Tiantan Park and Temple grounds were overhauled, the Blue Tiles of the Heaven worshipping terrace were changed to the color light green, and the now enlarged but lowered terrace was surrounded by the white marble balustrades that are seen today.
Views along the steps of the Round Altar towards the South Gate of Tiantan Park. The steps of each staiway leading onto the platform are a multiple of the number 9. More magic numbers are "hidden" and encoded into the platform.
The steps of all main stairs leading onto the terrace are multitudes of the magic esotherical number 9. So are the number of marble slabs layed circle-wise around each tier of the three platforms. Furthermore, the white marble balustrades surrounding each platform are used in the same mutlitude of the number 9 (72,108 and 180 respectively, making up 360 in total the days of the lunar year). The number 9 represents the supposed number of layers in heaven, in Confucianist Doctrine.
The Top and Highest platform is lined by 9 white marble balustrades and again the marble floor stones are layed circular and in a multitude of 9. However, the inner circle of the upper platform has only 9 green marble slabs, marking the most sacred part of the Altar the center of the circle, which is considered to be inside of Heaven.
In the exact center at the Top of this Platform lies a peculiar round marble stone which portrudes only slightly from the terrace surface. This is the echo
View of the Uppermost Platform, from the echo stone towards the North along the Central Axis of the sacred Taoist Temple Complex. When sound is produced at the echo stone, it will bounce back against the white marble balustrades and produce and echo, mainly only for the sound producer themselves. In ancient times this could be considered a magical effect, which in reality is achieved by careful architecture and calculation.
In short the architecture of the Rounded Altar includes 3 main features. The first is an outside wall surrounding the altar. This wall is square shaped and thus symbolises the Earth
(The altar of the earth is thus a square shaped altar). The
second main feature lies on the inside of this and is a circular wall enclosing the Altar. The passing through this inner circular wall on the way to the altar symbolizes leaving Earth and Entering Heaven, as Earth is Square and Heaven is traditionally respresented as circular in ancient China. The passage through is guarded by Mythical Dragons and Animals lining the outside of the Wall (Blue Tiles) and Traditional and important white marble LingXing Gate.
You are now in the Inner Sanctum and the circular Heavenly Altar can be climbed.
The Third main feature ofcourse is the circular altar itself, where, while climbing the Altar, smaller and smaller rings of multiples of nine are passed, and thus the center of Heaven, "God", is further approached. As mentioned the highest platform is the most sacred with its very center being perceived as to communicate directly with The Heavens above (Through the Echo Stone).
Needless to say, this sacred Platform was reserved only for the Highest, the Emperor himself.
Among the considerable duties of the Emperor there was a large number of ritual duties involving prayers to Heaven for Good Harvest.
View of North along the Main Axis towards the Imperial Vault of Heaven, of which the Blue Tiled Roofs can be seen. Note the circular wall surrounded by a square wall, when entering and leaving the round altar.
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Visitors and Tourists enjoy the inique architecture of the Round Altar and Tiantan Park. Beyond lie the Imperial Vault, Bridge of Vermillion and then the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, the main Hall of the Complex.
This platform, the rounded altar was only used for Prayers at the Winter Solstice, and in hope of a speedy coming of abundant rain for summer. Prayers for abundant crop etc were done at altars including the Altar of the Earth (not at Tiantan Park.) where the Emperor personally tended a small stroke of farmland in his symbolic function of Spiritual Father of the Nation and representer of Heaven on Earth.
Mouse over Image - Views of the Platforms and Balustrades at the North Side of the Round Altar.
Several Photos of white marble balustrades of the Round Altar and its square and circular Walls at Tiantan Park. Note the lingXing Gates in the four directions and the giant lantern pole cut from a single tree.
Detail of a copy of a scroll depicting the Imperial Procession moving through Beijing on the way to Tiantan for Ceremonies.
This detail of the scroll shows the round platform with its main features.
Enter and Leave the Round Altar proper through lingXing Gates in the four directions. There are Three LingXing Gates aside in each direction penetrating both walls.
This platform, the rounded altar is also known as the circular mound. As the Temple of Heaven complex was originally constructed in- and around 1420 AD, with the remodeling of Beijing into the Imperial Capital, the round altar dating from the year 1530 AD was not an original part of the Temple Complex but a later addition to it.
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Map of Tiantan Park - Temple of Heaven Complex showing the location of the Circular Mound inside the Park.
In the year 1530 AD, the Jiajing Emperor decided to break with practice of the Time and that in the Future sacrifices to Heaven should be made on a separate altar from the sacrifices to the Earth. Hence an Imperial
Decree was issued and the construction of 4 altars in the City of Beijing was ordered. From then on there would be an Altar of the Earth and an Altar of Heaven, at different locations from eachother. A further two altars would be build for sacrifices to the Moon and The Sun.
The Altar of the Moon was constructed in the West outside the City Gates of FuchengMen and FuxingMen. It is known as Temple of the Moon Park (YueTan Gongyuan) today. The Altar of the Sun and accompanying Temple of the Sun can still be found in the Eastern Chaoyang District, where they can be visited, as can the Altar of the Earth, inside its Park, just North across the second ring road from YongHeGong - The Lama Temple. To be entirely complete, west of Tiantan park -->
just across YongDingMen Dajie lay the Altar of Grain. All that remains today of the grounds is small patch, home to what is now called the Temple of Agriculture. The Altar of Grain & Agriculture soon fell into disrepair after the fall of the Last Dynasty and was usurped by the city by 1920. It is now part of a Sports Stadium, XianNongTan Stadium.

Thus since the Jiajing Reign of the Ming Dynasty the sacrifices to Heaven and Earth were no longer made together at a single Altar (the previous situation). In Beijing arose four magnificent new Altars and more Imperial Temples.
Soon, the Round Altar with the new Altar to Pray to the Heavens lend so much importance to the Temple Complex in Chongwen District that 4 years later, the entire Temple Complex was redesignated The Temple of Heaven, by which the Tiantan Park
and its entire grounds are still internationally known. The Square altar in the north of what is now YongHeGong (the showcase but essentially fake " Tibetan" "Lama Temple") was renamed Altar of the Earth (Fangze Tan) and Temple of the Altar of the Earth and over time became of lesser importance. Only slightly though. All altars would be continuously worshipped until the end of all of China's feudal dynasties, when Aisin-Gioro Pu Yi abdicated as Last Emperor of the Qing Dynasty in the year 1911 AD. Among things, a sacrifice was made upon the morning of the Enthronement of Pu Yi in 1908 AD.
Read More about the last years of the Qing Dynasty in in: "Life of Pu Yi, the Last Manchu Emperor".
Giant lantern pole in the South-West Corner inside both Walls.
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The circular mound with its enclosing walls covers an area of 27 thousand 225 square meters. There are 24 LingXing Gates in the surrounding walls.
The circular mound or altar itself measures 70 meters diameter at the base. It has three layers or tiers and stands at a height of 3.97 meters (1.81/1.66/1.50m). The circular altar can only be entered from North and South on your Tour of the Temple Complex.
stone, the centerpiece of the Holy Altar.
Enter in the South to first meet the Circular Heaven Worshipping Altar mound, then continue further through the Northern LingXing Gates on your way to the next Temple Hall on the Central Axis of the complex,which is the equally interesting and even more spectacular Imperial Vault of Heaven.
The Imperial Vault has its own solid enclosure Wall with more echo-effects and subtle architectural tricks.

Move to the right and East of the Imperial Vault and find some quiet in the surrounding park (not at top hours !).
Bypass the Imperial Vault to the Left and West and dwell into the western stretches of Tiantan Park to reach the Chinese Rose Garden and the Fasting Palace. The Rose Garden has few roses but some pavilions of unique architecture whereas the Fasting Palace, the place where the Emperor resided while purifying himself for the all important ritual, is a substantial compound built within the Park.
Where ever one goes, there is plenty to find in all directions. Beyond and to the North from the circular altar mound the central axis of the Park continues onwards towards main features the Bridge of Vermillion and ofcourse the Main Temple Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, for which the Park is world-famous.
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The Blue-Glazed Tiles of the Imperial Vault of Heaven visible above Northern 3 LingXing Gates at the Round Altar.
central place for worshipping Heaven at the time of the winter solstice of every year and likewise, in order to pray for rain in early summer. It is therefor also known as the Heaven-Worshipping-Terrace.
In the initial years after construction and during the entire length of the Ming Dynasty all three platforms of the terrace were covered with blue granite slabs and the balustrades were glazed green and had the most colorful panels.
A new tourgroup flocks in from the South.
Sound Bonus - "Spring Water reflects the Moon".
In the Ming Dynasty leaving Earth was not a matter of taking a rocket, although it was tried in the early Ming Dynasty using fireworks and a chair.
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*) Temple of Heaven Park (1) Introduction / Menu
1) Round Altar (1) Introduction - Below the Round Altar
2) Round Altar (2) Introduction - Climbing the Round Altar
3) Round Altar (3) Lingxing Gates and Details
*) Beijing Temple of Heaven and Park (Tiantan Gongyuan) - Online Sources
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