In our first month in China, we already managed to see one of the most famous sites in Beijing called the Temple of Heaven. Honestly, it wasn’t at the top of my list like the Great Wall or the Forbidden City. I had seen pictures online and thought, ‘oh cool, but I want to go to the big temples first‘. Now I realize how lucky I am that my school arranged for us to go because it was AMAZING!
Firstly, I keep kicking myself for thinking that this wasn’t going to be a great place to visit. When I saw my school had planned a Saturday trip to the temple, I was a little disappointed. I remember thinking so many times ‘Why aren’t they taking us to the Forbidden City or the Summer Palace?‘. I didn’t even bother opening the informational email that they sent out the week before because I wasn’t too interested. I was going so that my husband and son would have a chance to see it, and since the school was paying for the bus and my ticket, why not? I had already seen pictures during my research for China, so I practically know everything right? WRONG.
When the bus pulled up to the front, I still didn’t comprehend how big the place was. We bought my husband’s and son’s tickets (36 rmb for an adult; 17 rmb for a child’s all-over pass) and walked through the beautifully ornate gate. There weren’t any obvious signs of the temple yet and we kept walking until we got to another less ornate gate with a small wall surrounding it. The Circular Mound was in the center and was a place where the Emperor would make ritual sacrifices for the winter solstice. There was a small line of people taking off their shoes and then standing in the center with their hands above their hands. It was so interesting to watch and was not at all what I was expecting. I wanted to take a picture of it but didn’t want to be rude and it seemed somewhat religious. Because the Circular mound involved several marble tereraces to the top, it gave us an opportunity for pictures and to see at the temples that surrounded the area. NOW we were starting to understand that we were in for a treat.
So you can better understand the layout, I will use the word ‘stations’ though I am sure there is a much more respectful term for it. There are many stations in the Temple of Heaven and the first few are easy to follow because they go in a straight line. The second station was known as the ‘Echo Wall’. This wall is a perfect circle surrounding a small temple. What is cool is that when you stand on one side and yell, a person on the opposite side can hear you perfectly. Of course, this meant that there were dozens of foreign and local tourists all yelling at the same time in an effort for their companions to hear them on the opposite side. It was a little loud, but that didn’t stop us from joining in on the fun! The small temples within the echo wall let you look at some furniture and other items. But since these signs were in Chinese, I am not entirely sure what we were looking at. However, all wasn’t lost! The ceiling of these temples were so beautiful that we spent much more time looking at them then the displays! Dragons were painted in gold on a backdrop of green and blue. It was stunning to look at! The architecture of the building was so different than anything I experienced back home in the states. It all looked so ancient and elegant!
After the Echo Wall, I almost thought we were done! We had come to the end of the straight line and there were exit gates on other sides with forest surrounding the area. After asking one of the local teachers to ask a guard, they explained that we had to exit the gate, travel through the wooded area a little bit, and then continue on to the next station. After we exited, I was amazed by the beauty and the serenity of the little forest. We heard Chinese people singing and doing Tai Chi, they took no notice of us but I didn’t take pictures out of respect. We continued walking until we got to a massive wall on the East side and used it to head South. Eventually we found a map that said if we continued, we would find another temple and gift shops!
We eventually found the gift shop and couldn’t help but buy a small souvenir. We usually get picture frames when we travel and put a family photo in, but no luck here! So we got a tiny statue of Temple of Heaven for 80 rmb. Yes, I know we overspent but I don’t care! After our short break, we let Calvin pick our next stop. Calvin has a morbid sense of humor and so we continued on to the ‘Animal Sacrifice’ station. When I had originally asked the school if we needed to bring our passports, they said ‘no’ because they would purchase our tickets. Still, those of you that follow my blog know I am the nervous type and so I brought ours anyways! I didn’t want to risk missing out once we got there and it was a 30 minute cab-ride home if anything went wrong. Thank goodness I did, because there were two stations that required your passport to get in. Once they saw your passport (or ID for Chinese citizens), they would hand you a ticket separate from the one that you entered with, and that ticket got you into both ‘restricted’ sections. Some of the foreign teachers were not able to get in and both sections were amazing because they allowed you inside the temple areas and into a nice museum with actual artifacts! If you ever visit a historical site in China, BRING YOUR PASSPORT!
FINALLY, we got to the giant temple that made the Temple of Heaven famous. This place was soooo big and I couldn’t believe I didn’t see it easier before when we were on the grounds! At least three stories tall, this temple was the best. Also sitting on three marble terraces, it was a great place for pictures. So much so, I saw at least three or four photo shoots going on. Girls in big, flowing dresses trying to get pictures whilst surrounded by hundreds of tourists. It was near noon and we treated ourselves to some cold sodas and ice cream! We had been at the Temple of Heaven for 2.5 hours and it was already time to go! We walked back to the front entrance we came in and got a big group picture with all the teachers that came.
While I wasn’t all that interested in the Temple of Heaven before we started, I am so glad I had the opportunity to go and see it. There was so much culture and history in this place and if it weren’t for my school, I may not have ever seen it. It makes me even more excited by all the rest of the historical sites! Beijing has NINE UNESCO World Heritage Sites and the Temple of Heaven is only one of them. We have plans to visit several more this school year! My school is taking some of the students on field trips to the Summer Palace and Peking Man exhibit. We also planning on camping on the Great Wall in a few weeks! Of course, I will be telling you all about it so you can plan your own adventures too!