Monday, December 15, 2008

travel to Beijing: the Temple of Heaven

Today, we will explore another worthwhile visiting place in Beijing, --- the Temple of Heaven (Tiantan in Chinese). It is a comprehensive expression of the unique construction techniques from Ming and Qing Dynasties, also the world's largest architectural complex for worship heaven. Along with the Summer Palace, it was listed as one of the World Heritage Sites by 1998.

Built magnificent and gloriously in 1420 A.D, with an solemn and respectful environment, the Temple served as an exclusive altar for Chinese rulers during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Offering sacrifices was a serious task! The ancient Chinese believed that the entire empire relied on the emperor praying for good fortune and abundant harvests from Heaven. Thus the emperors had quite a responsibility! There were specific rites of worship in ancient times, especially during the Ming and Qing dynasties when elaborate ceremonies were held.

It’s interesting when we research the shape and structure of the Temple buildings. With an area of about 2,700,000 square meters, it’s much bigger than the Forbidden City. As Chinese emperors called themselves 'The Son of Heaven', they dared not to build their own dwelling, 'Forbidden City' bigger than a dwelling for Heaven. On the other hand, the buildings reflect an ancient Chinese thought of 'The heaven is round and the earth is square'. Thus, the Northern part of the park is a semicircular shape symbolizing the heavens and the south a square symbolizing the earth. Meanwhile the northern part is higher than the southern part.

While here, tourist can enjoy both the most important constructions, others of historic interest and scenic beauty. The whole compound is enclosed by two walls, dividing the whole Temple into inner and outer areas. The outer area is characterized by suburban scenery, while the inner part is used for sacrifices with the main structures(such as the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, the Circular Mound Altar, Imperial Heaven, The Imperial Vault of Heaven, Heaven Kitchen, Long Corridor and so on).

But the Temple of Heaven is not just a solemn and glorious architectures, there are many funny phenomenons. Try the four wonderful sounds!

1. The echo from the Echo Wall – This famous wall encloses the Imperial Vault of Heaven with a perimeter of 193 meters. One person's mere whisper at any point close to the wall can be heard clearly on the other side if you draw your ear close to the wall, it is so clear that it is like talking on the phone. Isn't it interesting? This is possible because the wall is round and hermetically constructed with smooth, solid bricks, so the sound wave can transmit to the other side via the extremely smooth inner circle. The phenomenon utilizes the theory of sound wave.

2. The echo from the Three Echo Stones – It’s outside of the gate of the Imperial Vault of Heaven. If you speak facing the Vault while standing on the first stone, you will hear one echo; standing on the second and then the third stone, you will hear two and three echoes respectively. Why? This is because the distances that the sound wave reflected from the Echo wall to the stone are different, the number of echo is also different. Take a guess which flagstone is at the center of the Echo Wall's? The third one. The echo actually gets repeated more than 3 times, it's just the sound is too weak to be heard after the 4th echo.

3. The sound of the Dialogue Stone - If you speak while standing on the 18th stone in front of The Imperial Vault of Heaven, the sound can clearly pass to the northeast corner of the north side hall and the northwest of the west side hall that are both 36 meters away.

4. The hollow of the Heaven's Center Stone - There is a stone plate in the center of the Circular Mound Altar called the Heaven's Center Stone. Shouting aloud standing above, you will hear the reverberation of the echo. This is due to the refraction of the sound.

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