Prayers to the Air: The Temple of Heaven

One of the best places to visit in Beijing is The Temple of Heaven, which is China’s most famous ancient sacrificial building. This is located at Tiantan Park and be accessed by riding Subway Line 5 to Tiantan Dongmen Station and by leaving the station at Exit A. From here you will be at the East Gate of the site. Entrance fees are currently 15CNY for a basic admission ticket, or 35CNY for a bulk ticket which gives you effectively an ‘access all areas’ pass of the complex, including the famous highlight of the temple which is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests.

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I entered the Temple of Heaven through the East Heaven Gate, and saw many locals sitting around playing card games. It was tempting to watch them, but I wanted to explore the temple further. From my entry point to the south there is the Circular Mound Altar. Further ahead (heading straight on from the gate) there is the Palace of Abstinence. Yet it is northwards from here where the true beauty of this complex lies: The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. This is one of the most famous icons of Beijing, and can be found all over the internet and on many postcards of the city. It is almost as synonymous with Beijing as the Great Wall itself.

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The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests

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The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests is a three-tiered building where the Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties used to come and pray for good weather and a prosperous harvest season, at a time when crops where very important to the economy of this area of China. Before this ceremonial process could be initiated, the Emperor would fast in the nearby Palace of Abstinence beforehand. The Circular Mound Altar in the southern parts of the complex were literally the place where the Emperors of old would sacrifice themselves to Heaven on Winter Solstice each year.

The Circular Altar
The Circular Altar
Palace of Abstinence
Palace of Abstinence

The Temple of Heaven really was one of my favourite places not only in Beijing, but in all of China. Unlike the Forbidden City, which left me disappointed, the Temple of Heaven left me craving more, and I must have spent a good few hours around here in the freezing cold sub-zero temperatures taking photographs and otherwise just soaking up the atmosphere and learning a bit about Chinese history. It is certainly one of the places I would recommend you go and visit during your stay in Beijing, and I would actually recommend that you prioritise it over a sortie to the Great Wall!

For more information on the Temple of Heaven, with more focus on the whole site as opposed to the areas on which I focussed, check out this blog from Olivia Sydow.

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6 thoughts on “Prayers to the Air: The Temple of Heaven

  1. I agree- Beijing has so many things to do and sights to see! I went to Shanghai a couple of months after I moved to Beijing. I loved it and think it would be a great place to live for a while. But it doesn’t have all the famous sights that Beijing has. Even after 7 months of living in Beijing, we still have plenty of places left to explore. Glad you enjoyed your trip here!

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