If you go to Beijing as a traveler, the Temple of Heaven should be atop your to-do list! It’s UNESCO because it’s a beautiful masterpiece. Those are the words of the UN itself! If you’re looking for classical China, look no further.
What is the Temple of Heaven?
天坛, or literally the Temple of Heaven, played a crucial role in ancient China. The Temple of Heaven was built in the 1400s by the Yongle Emperor of the Ming Dynasty to ask for good harvests. The Chinese emperors used it as a place to make sacrifices to the heavens before harvest season each year. The Temple held rituals of prayers for the Son of Heaven, or whichever emperor led China at the time. As a result, it’s imperial and grand.
Many of the halls brim with Chinese symbolism, expertly preserved. Now, the expansive grounds are full of travelers taking in its beauty and locals exercising. Anyone can buy tickets to enter it!
Getting There + Buying Tickets
The best method of transportation in Beijing is subway. It not only covers the entire city, it’s cheap! Get to the Temple of Heaven by getting off at the TianTanDongMen (天坛东门) station on Line 5, between the intersections with lines 7 and 14. This will take you directly to the East Gate of the Temple of Heaven.
Countless bus routes stop by the different gates around the temple, and taxis are a cheap, direct alternative. However, if you are traveling during rush hours, expect to be stuck in heavy traffic.
As with most other attractions in Beijing, the Temple of Heaven offers several ticket prices. You can check updated ticket information here but since it’s only in Chinese, these are the prices:
|Ticket type||Regular Price|
|Peak season entrance ticket||¥15|
|Peak season through ticket||¥34|
|Off-season entrance ticket||¥10|
|Off-season through ticket||¥28|
Peak season is from April 1 to October 31, and discount tickets are available for students with Chinese student IDs and elderly people over the age of 70. The entrance ticket covers just the entrance, while the through ticket will get you through the different attractions inside the park, including the Hall of Prayer of Good Harvests and the Imperial Vault of Heaven. These are major attractions in the park. Unless you have already seen these, I highly recommend the through ticket.
The Hall of Prayer of Good Harvests
If you go to the Temple of Heaven and miss this hall, you haven’t actually been to the Temple! The Hall of Prayer is the iconic building in the park and represents the location where the emperor would pray. It’s the tallest building in the park and often crowded, but it’s still gorgeous and worth a visit!
The detail on the tops of the gates are noteworthy!
The inside of the Hall may be more intricate than the outside. It has a combination of many symbols. In Chinese culture, a square represents the earth, while a circle represents heaven.
The square/circle symbols are most prominent if you look up!
There is even more symbolism outside the Hall! On each side of the main building are carvings of dragons and phoenixes. They represent two sides of harmony, and you can toss bills and coins to improve your luck! The key is to get the coins to stay in the carving and not roll all the way to the bottom.
The pillars around the Hall and the Vault (introduced below) are carved with various animals that mean different things in Chinese history!
The Imperial Vault of Heaven + Echo Wall
The Imperial Vault of Heaven is similar to a smaller version of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. It’s south of the Hall and requires another two tickets (it is included if you buy the through ticket) for it and the surrounding Echo Wall. Unless you go in the early morning, there will likely be a long line of tourists waiting to see the vault.
It’s important to remember that most places in China are surrounded by swathes of people. Once you accept this, traveling China becomes so much easier.
There’s a saying in Chinese that goes “人山人海”. It literally means “people mountain people ocean”, or there are so many people that they make up mountains and oceans. When you see hoards of people, that’s when you know you’re in China.
Despite all the people, you can go to the Echo Wall. Stand in the center and speak loudly, and try to see if you can hear yourself over all the noise around you. The Wall is built for echoes (as the name suggests) and it a cool feat of ancient Chinese architecture!
Circular Mound Altar
The altar was a later addition to the Temple, but it’s just as beautiful. It is a wide open space where the emperor used to perform part of the sacrificial ceremony. At the center, which is called the Heart of Heaven, he would pray for good weather.
Keep walking and you’ll come across the Three Gates.
The Surrounding Park
Half of the people in the Temple of Heaven are there just to take a walk. You can often find wealthy Beijing residents making use of their season pass and strolling around the beautiful landscape!
Depending on the time of year that you visit, you’ll see a different view!
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