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Temple of Heaven

Beijing, China

The Temple of Heaven is a brilliantly ornate construction that also holds the title of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And if that doesn’t pull you in, then the fact that it is a religious place purposefully built larger in size than the Forbidden City will definitely get your attention. Within, during the Ming and Qing eras, the reigning emperor would hold precisely timed, important ceremonies for heavenly deities to ensure bountiful crops in the upcoming year. It is a fascinating glimpse into the oriental culture.

The #1 temple in all of China can be accessed pretty seamlessly through Beijing’s public transport network. While all four gates are served by public buses, the East Gate is just a stone’s throw from Tiantan Dongmen station of Line 5. There is a meager admission ticket of RMB15 (RMB10 off-season) and then a further charge of RMB20 if you want to get close and personal with the Circular Mound Altar, Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests (a must) or the famous Echo Wall at the Imperial Vault of Heaven. Don’t forget to take your passport along!

Back in the day, the Emperor would start the ceremonial procession from the South Gate and progress systematically to the Prayer Hall, which lies to the north of the complex, performing rituals in the designated buildings that laid in a south to north alignment. So if you really want to follow in Imperial footsteps, make an effort to get up early and come through the South Gate, check out the Circular Mound Altar, proceeding to the Imperial Vault of Heaven and ultimately wind up at the aforementioned Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. The crowds are thick from April-October and on public holidays and weekends. But if you do end up here at any of those times, get a timely start (park opens at 06:00) to feel the serenity of the Temple, although attractions inside don’t open until 08:00.

Perhaps the most magnificent and picture-worthy is the Prayer Hall, which is not only a treat to behold but is also quite heavy on the symbolism. The perfectly circular building and the significance of the 12 inner and outer pillars plus 4 main ones (28 total) inside never fail to impress visitors. The Imperial Vault of Heaven is a mastery of acoustics, built to amplify sound so it could reach the heavens. A cool experience is to have a friend stand at the opposite end of the Echo Wall (the north-facing one) from you and have a whispered conversation since sound carries so perfectly there. It won’t work in too much noise and crowds unfortunately. The Circular Altar Mound, built of marble is another important construction.

But the place isn’t only worth visiting for the history. There are splendid gardens with many plant and tree varieties and walkways like the Long Corridor or the Danbi bridge that will delight your senses and provide the ideal opportunity to witness locals practicing Taichi, playing cards or even bursting into song.

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