Temple of Heaven

The Temple of Heaven, Tiantan, is a classic Ming-dynasty building, a picture in stone of ancient Chinese cosmogony,is a masterpiece of architecture and landscape design. Well, that’s what my guidebook says anyway. I was very taken by the huge numbers of locals out doing a variety of exercises in the grounds: retirement age is quite low in BJ, and so the residents relish the socialising aspect of these communal activities.

Back in its heyday, the temple was used once a year, to pray for the harvest at the Winter Solstice, requiring 3 days of fasting in advance by the Emperor. It’s an incredible circular building, made entirely of wood without any nails, painted in dazzling colours. We particularly loved the tale of the sacreligious caterpillar, who was struck by lightning as it reached for a golden ball in the roof of the building in 1889, when it was struck by lightning, causing a fire which destroyed the building. 32 unfortunate court officials were executed for allowing this to happen!