Our first stop of the day was the Temple of Heaven, which was only a 15 minute drive from our hotel. An oasis of methodical Confucian design, the 267-hectare Temple of Heaven Park is absolutely unique. It originally served as a vast stage for solemn rites performed by the emperor (the literal ‘Son of Heaven’), who prayed here for good harvests at winter solstice and sought divine clearance and atonement. Since 1918 this private imperial domain has opened its gates to common folk, who still congregate daily to perform Tai Chi, twirl on gymnastics bars and sing revolutionary songs. As you can see below, Eduardo was invited by the elders to join in.
A short walk further into the park brought us to the temple.
The temple complex was constructed from 1406 to 1420 during the reign of the Yongle Emperor, who was also responsible for the construction of the Forbidden City in Beijing. The complex was extended and renamed Temple of Heaven during the reign of the Jiajing Emperor in the 16th century. The Temple of Heaven was renovated in the 18th century under the Qianlong Emperor. By then, the state budget was insufficient, so this was the last large-scale renovation of the temple complex in imperial times.
The Temple of Heaven was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998 and was described as “a masterpiece of architecture and landscape design which simply and graphically illustrates a cosmogony of great importance for the evolution of one of the world’s great civilizations…” as the “symbolic layout and design of the Temple of Heaven had a profound influence on architecture and planning in the Far East over many centuries.”