Architectural Odyssey

The Altar of Land and Grain

Updated: Aug 16, 2019 Print
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The gate leads to the altar holding soils of five colors [Photo/IC]

Abiding by China's feudal construction conventions of the layout pattern of imperial architecture, established sometime between the fifth and the third century BC, the Altar of Land and Grain (repurposed as Zhongshan Park) was inaugurated in the 15th century Ming Dynasty and located to the southwest of the Forbidden City, opposite the Ancestral Temple.

The Altar was where the emperor made offerings to the gods of the land and grain, as well as a symbol of the state territory and its agricultural yield. More than 1300 sacrificial rituals were held here from 1421 to 1911 by both Ming and Qing emperors.

Apart from the buildings, the most remarkable relic of the sacrificial enclosure is the square terraced white-marble altar. Its top is covered with soils of five colors gathered from all over the state. The soils are arranged on the altar in five directions: yellow in the middle, green in the east, red in the south, white in the west, and black in the north, corresponding to the ancient Chinese understanding of the cosmos.

The altar containing soils of five colors is a symbol of the state territory and its agricultural yield. [Photo/VCG]


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