The second-largest of Beijing, China’s four temples, the Temple of Earth, or 地坛／DiTan, is the complement to Beijing’s UNESCO Temple of Heaven. It was built in the Ming Dynasty, around 1530, as an alter for sacrifices during the Summer Solstices. Emperors would worship here to ensure a prosperous harvest for the Chinese people.
The Temple of Earth is square because squares represent earth in Chinese culture; the Temple of Heaven contains mostly circles.
While the Temple of Earth is not as magnificent as the Temple of Heaven, it is just across the street from Yonghe Gong, or Lama Temple, the monastery of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism.
Getting to and Getting In the Temple of Earth
The Subway and Bus
The most convenient way to get to the Temple of Earth is by subway. The nearest stop, Yonghe Gong, or Yonghe Lamasery, Station, is the interchange station for Lines 2 and 5. Go out Exit A and go right for the south entrance of the Temple of Earth, and left for the Lama Monastery.
The bus is also convenient, if you prefer to take it. Lines 18, 75, 104, 108, 113, 119, 124, 125, 301, 426, 430, and Special Line 11 take you to Ditan Ximen Station for the west gate, and bus 117 arrives at Ditan Dongmen Station (the east gate). It does not make much of a difference which entrance you go to.
If you arrive and don’t want to walk too much, you can rent one of these small carts near the south entrance.
Year round, anyone can enter the park starting at 6 am for ¥2. This provides entrance to the general park. The only exception is if you visit on the week of the Chinese New Year Cultural Temple Fair, when entrance is ¥10. While the park is relatively secluded on other days, it will be packed during the Fair.
To enter the part of the Temple where ancient ceremonies took place, you have to make your way to the center of the Temple and buy another ticket for ¥6.
This is the most important part of the Temple, and on a typical day you won’t see many people here if you see any at all. The extra ticket will also give you access to the nearby Earth God Worship House. There are no discounts for buying both tickets.
If you visit from May to October, the Temple closes at 9:30pm. From November to April, it closes earlier, at 8:30pm!
The Nature at the Temple of Earth
If you pass by the eastern part of the Temple of Earth, you’ll see its gorgeous gardens! Some of the trees have symbolism behind them.
The peaceful imagery, combined with the lack of people that normally walk around Beijing, is extraordinarily peaceful. Find a bench and take a seat!
The two shots above were taken of almost the same thing, just from different angles. The lack of crowds here really impressed me!
If you visit the Temple of Earth before winter comes, you can find gorgeous flower beds.
Not only does the nature around the Temple of Earth help keep the entire Temple cool, it also provides a calming feel to the area.
The Main Attraction: Fang Ze Tan
The main entrance ticket to the Temple of Earth doesn’t cover Fang Ze Tan, so you’ll have to buy them at this little gate next to the entrance of Fang Ze Tan.
In the center of the Temple is 方泽坛, or the “Square Lake Alter”.
It’s a perfect square, representing the Earth. Chinese people, who observe superstitions closely, built the alter’s two tiers around the number 6, which also represents the Earth. The first tier is 20 square meters, or 60尺 (chi, a measurement from Chinese history). The second is 22 square meters, or 66尺.
The gates in East Asia (including South Korea and Japan) of royal places often come in trios. This is so that ancient emperors could walk in the middle, while accompanied on the two sides by civil and military officials, respectively.
The Earth God Worship House
Next to the Square Lake Alter is the Earth God Worship House. It requires a ticket as well, but buying ticket to the Alter includes this house.
This house used to be the place where the emperor would rest and prepare for his ceremony, so it is filled with symbolic items that emperors would use.
Even if the emperor could walk perfectly well, he was usually carried wherever he went. This is one of these portable thrones, and the emperor would sit on the seat while four or more servants would take him wherever he needed.
While it seems like a small house, it has several large artifacts. This is a Chinese rattle drum, or 拨浪鼓. These are often used to entertain children because they have little buttons attached on strings at the sides. The rattles make a distinct sound when spun, so the little buttons hit the drum surface. This one has a dragon design to symbolize the emperor’s power.
It also holds some of the signs that were used in ceremonies. The second from the right means “God of the Earth.”
Other Imperial Details
While you’re there, take some time to wander around the rest of the Temple of Earth! It’s highly underrated, and especially great because of the lack of people around.
Walk through the walkways around the Temple and admire the architecture! These gates are a great example; you will see this style of gate at the Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace, Prince Gong’s Mansion, and other famous landmarks in Beijing and beyond. However, you will almost never see another place with less people around. Trust me – that’s a major blessing you should take advantage of!
Don’t forget to look down as well.
While you won’t be able to walk into the buildings, but there are several scattered around the Temple. You can imagine what kinds of activities used to happen in here in preparation for ceremonies.
Or, take note of the larger structures. This decorative wall makes the whole area look imperial!
If you go for nothing else, appreciate the beauty and peace at the Temple of Earth!
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