It was here that the emperor would make sacrifices and pray to heaven and his ancestors at the winter solstice. As the Son of Heaven, the emperor could intercede with the gods on behalf of his people and pray for a good harvest. Off-limits to the common people during the Ming and Qing dynasties, the temple complex is now fully open to the public and attracts thousands of visitors daily, including many local Chinese who come to enjoy the large and pleasant park in which the monuments are set.

  • Tian Tan Dong Lu (East Gate), Chongwen

  • 6702 8866

  • Subway: Tian Tan Dong Men

  • Park open: 6am–9pm daily. Temple open: 8am–5:30pm

  • Admission to temple: ¥35. Admission to park: ¥15.

  • Audio guides are available for ¥40


Tian Tan

The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, or Qinian Dian, which is the iconic structure at the heart of the complex, is often incorrectly called the Temple of Heaven. There is, in fact, no single temple building and the name, which in Chinese is Tian Tan – a more literal translation of which is Altar of Heaven – refers to the whole complex.

Triple gate for emperor, officials, and gods

There are several small snack kiosks in the park grounds.

Just as fascinating as exploring the temple is observing the great numbers of Chinese who come to the park to dance, exercise, sing opera, play games of cards and mahjong, and fly kites.

Top 10 Features
  1. Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests

    Built in 1420, then rebuilt in 1889, this circular tower, with a conical roof of blue tiles and a gold finial, is the most beautiful building in Beijing. One of the most striking facts about it is that it was constructed without the use of a single nail.

  2. Painted Caisson Ceiling

    The circular ceiling of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests has a gilded dragon and phoenix at its center. The wood for the four central columns was imported from Oregon, as at the time China had no trees tall enough.

  3. Marble Platform

    The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests sits atop three tiers of marble that form a circle 300 ft (90 m) in diameter and 20 ft (6 m) high. The balusters on the upper tier are decorated with intricate dragon carvings that serve to signify the imperial nature of the structure.

  4. Red Step Bridge

    A raised walkway of marble and stone that runs exactly along the north-south axis of the temple complex, the Red Step Bridge connects the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests with the Round Altar.

  5. Imperial Vault of Heaven

    A circular hall made of wood and capped by a conical roof, the Imperial Vault once held the wooden spirit tablets that were used in the ceremonies that took place on the nearby Round Altar.

  6. Echo Wall

    The Imperial Vault is enclosed by the circular Echo Wall, which has the same sonic effects found in some European cathedrals, where even a whisper travels round to a listener on the other side.

  7. Echo Stones

    There are three rectangular stones at the foot of the staircase leading up to the Imperial Vault: stand on the first and clap to hear one echo; stand on the second stone and clap once for two echoes; clap once on the third for three echoes.

  8. Round Altar

    The altar is formed of marble slabs laid in nine concentric circles with each circle containing a multiple of nine pieces. The center of the altar represents the center of the world and it is where the emperor carried out sacrifices.

  9. Hall of Abstinence

    A red-walled, compound surrounded by a moat spanned by decorative bridges, the Hall of Abstinence resembles a mini Forbidden City. This is where the emperor would spend the last 24 hours of his three-day fast prior to partaking in the Temple of Heaven ceremonies.

  10. Temple of Heaven Park

    Today, locals, inured both to the splendor of the buildings and to the crowds of tourists, use the extensive grounds to practice tai ji quan, and other martial arts, and to exercise.

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