Tiantan in Mandarin, the Temple of Heaven is a sequence of buddhist temples located three blocks south of the Forbidden City in central Beijing. Ordered by Emperor Yongle, it is one of the largest temple complexes in China.

Heaven, or tian (translated as sky, heaven is a connotation) was considered the source of harmony and spiritual authority by most sects of Chinese philosophy, hence it symbolized the source of imperial power, or the mandate of Heaven. The Emperor is hence the Son of Heaven. This was the site of animal sacrifices at the Winter Solstice to keep order and harmony in the Middle Kingdom (or the Universe, China was considered the center of the universe back then).

The northern half of the temple complex is shaped in a half-circle to symbolize heaven, the southern half a square to denote Earth. Instead of yellow tiles, the traditional symbol of heavenly power in China, the tiles here are a light blue, reflecting the sky. Chinese mythology is heavily incorporated into the design, the number 9 symbolizes heaven, hence everything in the Temple of Heaven is built in tiers of three.

It is now a giant tourist trap, however, the authorities have had the good sense to ban the more obvious tourist eyesores. It is free for locals to get in, it costs foreigners US$5. In addition to breath-taking architecture, tea of excellent quality can be obtained there. Highly recommened after walking the Forbidden Palace.

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