• Ancient and urban collide at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing

    2014-06-10

    The city of Beijing is one of China's most bustling urban centers. The nation's capital is one of the largest cities in the world, and home to both urban modernity and ancient cultural history, existing side-by-side. One of the most famous ancient historical landmarks is the Temple of Heaven. For travelers who want to experience firsthand a piece of Chinese dynastic history, now may be an ideal time to plan Asia travel to this ancient and mysterious Eastern capital.

    A royal history
    More than half a millennium old, the Temple was originally built in 1420. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, its name is actually a misnomer. UNESCO reported that the traditional Chinese actually translates to Altar of Heaven and Earth. An important religious site during China's dynastic period, it was used by emperors from both the Ming and Qing dynasties during the sacrificial Heaven Worship Ceremony.

    Meant to celebrate the relationship between Heaven and Earth, the emperors would offer animal sacrifices at various altars spread throughout the site. Over the years, emperors from the dynasties expanded the complex by building additional gates, altars and temples. Today, the entire site occupies a space of just over 2.7 million square meters, according to Travel China Guide.

    Architecture, symbolism and culture
    Visitors to the Temple of Heaven will find that the very construction of the site is influenced by and indicative of ancient Chinese culture. According to Lonely Planet, the architecture and construction of the temple is itself a reflection of the culture's deep roots in Confucian philosophy. The layout is perfectly symmetrical, as a means to express the Confucian ideal of the human intellect imposed on nature, ridding the grounds of any natural imperfections in its construction.

    Notably, the Temple of Heaven is actually larger than another of China's famous historic landmarks, the Forbidden City. According to Travel China Guide, this was by design. The emperors were seen as servants of Heaven, and as such were forbidden to have their own dwelling be larger than those that were built to honor Heaven.

    One of the most impressive sights to take in at the Temple of Heaven is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. This triple-tiered and triple-domed structure was destroyed by lightning in 1889, but faithfully reconstructed the following year. Travelers can marvel at the ingenuity of the construction, as the pillars that hold up the roof are free-standing, using neither cement nor nails.

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