The Temple of Heaven, more properly referred to as Tian Tan, is definitely one of China’s most impressive cultural treasures.

One of China’s largest temple complexes, it is quite deservedly recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The Tian Tan complex, completed during the Ming dynasty (1368 – 1644), is significant as it served as the place where the emperor would come to make sacrifices and to pray to his ancestors during the winter solstice. The Emperor was believed to have intercessory powers that his subjects did not and was therefore able to intervene on their behalf and pray for a fruitful harvest. 

Although I haven’t had the chance to do much sight-seeing in China since we moved here last September, I did have a chance recently to visit the Temple of Heaven, or Tian Tan. I know I don’t have much to compare it to, but it is one of my favorite historic attractions I have visited so far in China. At 2,700,00 square meters, Tian Tan park is actually larger than the Forbidden City. This is intentional, as the Emperors were forbidden from building a dwelling for themselves that exceeded the size of their earthly symbol of heaven. 

My best laid plans to arrive early (by close to 6 AM!) were foiled when I had difficulty sleeping the night before. I had hoped to arrive in time to watch the morning exercisers practice Tai Chi throughout the park between 6:00 – 8:00 am. Although I probably didn’t arrive until closer to 10 AM, there were still plenty of dancers and exercisers throughout the park, even if it wasn’t as many as I would have seen earlier. The air was clear enough (for a day in China!) and it was a perfect day to explore. 

I entered from the East Gate and headed straight through toward the North Gate, which would bring me to the structure most commonly referred to as the Temple of Heaven. A three-tiered marble platform encircles Qinian Dian, or the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, commonly mislabeled as the Temple of Heaven. Dragon figures are carved into the pillars, signifying its imperial nature.

Qinian Dian, where the emperor went to pray for a good harvest. Red is a common theme among this and other temple structures as it is an imperial color, while blue is used to represent the color of heaven. The outside is adorned with phoenix and dragon motifs to symbolize the empress and emperor. The roof is circular, symbolizing the sky.

I love the lion door knockers.

Dragon carvings into the balusters represent the imperial nature of the temple.

Near the South Gate (Zhaoheng) of the Tian Tan complex is the Imperial Vault of Heaven, which was used to store the spirit tablets of the gods. 

Looking down from the Round Alter, where the Emperor would make his sacrifice to the gods. The three gates represent three separate entrances: the east for the Emperor, the  west for officials, and the center for the gods. This is a common architectural design found throughout China. 

Exploring the beautiful grounds of Tian Tan park. 

Have you visited the Temple of Heaven and Tian Tan Park in Beijing? What was your favorite part?