There are plenty of temples in China, but none are larger than the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. It's hard to miss this complex, located in the southerly Chongwen district, about four miles away from the city's epicenter. Even though the many temples of Beijing have equally inspiring titles—the Temple of the Sun, the Temple of the Moon, and the Temple of the Earth—the pinnacle of these buildings is the Temple of Heaven. Constructed in the early fifteenth century, the Temple of Heaven of China and its surroundings covers an area over five times the size of the nearby Forbidden City.
The main purpose of the Temple of Heaven in Beijing was demonstrated during harvest season. The emperors fell upon the temple to pray for a better harvest than the last. Though steeped in tradition and history, the only people that visit the temple nowadays are tourists and locals who gather beneath the grounds' numerous cypress trees. But its sense of the past is palpable, which is why is has been elevated to one of the most visited tourist destinations in the country.
The architecture of the Temple of Heaven in Beijing is a magnificent display, and consists of four main structures: the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, the imperial Vault of Heaven, the Echo Wall and the Circular Mound Altar.
The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest survives on the four large pillars at its center. Known as the dragon well pillars, each one represents one of the four seasons. There is no steel, no concrete in this well-aged palace. The walls and ceiling are a multitude of wooden bars and brackets, of sheltering eaves and impressive colors.
The dark blue roof of the Imperial Vault of Heaven is the jewel of the second structure. The glazed tiles that adjoin to the ceiling overlook the tablet of the imperial God in Heaven, which was traditionally kept here when not acting as the centerpiece to a sacrificial ceremony elsewhere.
Over 200 feet in diameter, the most famous part of the Temple of Heaven of China is the Echo Wall. It surrounds the Vault, and is well-known for its acoustics. When directed at the wall, even a whisper from a hundred feet away is clearly distinguishable, as if the person was speaking right into your ear. Though you are unlikely to get the wall all to yourself, you can still shout above the others, your words reverberating of the ancient wall.
South of the Echo wall stands the Altar of Heaven, built entirely of white marble. The altar has four entrances and a flight of nine steps leading down in every direction. At the center of the upper terrace lies a round stone surrounded by nine concentric rings of stones. When the emperors went to worship in the Temple of Heaven of China, this is where they went.