The Temple of Heaven is one of China's many great architectural treasures and is often used as a symbol of the capital of Beijing. Though it is now a popular destination for Asia travel, the temple remained off limits to everyone but the emperor and a selected few attendants for most of its history. The site was not open to the public until 1912, on the Chinese National Day of the Republic, according to Sacred Destinations.
Feng shui and the temple
Before the temple was made available to all, the complex was home to a lot of history. Even the site of the famous altar is closely tied to Chinese history. The art of feng shui has been practiced in China for centuries and has often been seen as a way to keep the country prosperous and its citizens happy.
When the time came to build the Temple of Heaven, a highly important religious site, the Yongle Emperor, as the country's ruler was known, called in feng shui experts to make sure that the site was chosen appropriately. The practitioners assured Yongle that the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests was exactly where it should be, at the point where they said Heaven was closest to Earth.
Transgressions against the Temple of Heaven, and especially against the Hall of Prayer, are seen as extremely serious. In 1889, the structure was famously struck by a lightning bolt and destroyed. According to Sacred Destinations, the temple's caretakers attributed the destruction to divine retribution for allowing a caterpillar to approach the golden pinnacle of the structure's roof. In order to punish the lapse, 32 court officials were reportedly executed and the altar was restored.
Other buildings in the Temple of Heaven also possess sacred qualities that may not be obvious when they're first encountered. The Round Altar, built in 1530, is entirely constructed around the number nine, according to Lonely Planet. The number was important to the temple's builders and caretakers, as it represented divinity. Three tiers of white marble form the structure's shape, and the topmost tier consists of a mosaic of nine rings of stones. The number of stones in each ring is a multiple of nine, with the final made up of 81 stones. Mathematical precision informed the rest of the building as well, which features stairs and railing arranged in sets of nine.