Deciphering city codes: the Central Axis of Beijing

Temple of Heaven and Temple of Agriculture: Imperial sacrifice gardens

Updated: Jun 7, 2022 Print
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Sacrifice played a significant role in the feudal society of China. As imperial gardens for sacrifice, the Temple of Heaven and Temple of Agriculture are located respectively on the east and west sides of the Heavenly Bridge (Tianqiao). Their symmetrical distribution embodies the idea of harmony between man and nature and the symmetry of the central axis in ancient China.

The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest has a triple-eaved roof. [Photo/VCG]

The Temple of Heaven was located in the southeast of the former outer city of Beijing, east of the Forbidden City’s due south areas and east of the Gate of the Zenith Sun (Zhengyang men). It was the place where emperors of Ming and Qing dynasties offered sacrifices to the god of Heaven on Winter Solstice and prayed for good harvest on a selected day in the first lunar month.

The Temple of Heaven was built in 1420 by the command of Emperor Yongle of the Ming Dynasty. In 1530, its Circular Mound Altar was constructed to worship heaven. In the Qing Dynasty, conventions were carried on as in the Ming Dynasty.

Major buildings in the Temple of Heaven include the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, the Imperial Vault of Heaven and the Circular Mound Altar. The whole Temple of Heaven is surrounded by two cordons of walls: the northern end is semi-circular, representing heaven and the southern end is square, representing earth. The Circular Mound Altar in the south and the Altar of Prayer for Grain in the north are on the same line, separated by a wall.

The Temple of Agriculture is now converted into the Beijing Ancient Architecture Museum. [Photo/VCG]

The Temple of Agriculture was built to southwest of the Gate of the Zenith Sun in 1420. Constant repairs took place and new buildings have been added to its vicinity later on.

Corresponding to the Temple of Heaven in the east, the Temple of Agriculture was the place where rituals of imperial sacrifice to agriculture gods were conducted during the Ming and Qing dynasties.

In 1998, the Temple of Heaven was inscribed on the World Heritage List as a cultural heritage. It symbolizes the capital city of Beijing on many occasions.

The Temple of Agriculture is now the Beijing Ancient Architecture Museum, where visitors can experience the charm of Chinese architecture in person.

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