Round altar, Temple of Heaven, Beijing

© Hung Chung Chih/Shutterstock

Round Altar

Temple of Heaven Park & Dongcheng South

The present build dating to around 1540, this is the business end of the Temple of Heaven. Here on this open-air, raised platform (a circle within a square arrangement) is where the esoteric ceremonies to heaven actually took place, performed according to solemn protocol every winter solstice by the emperor himself.

The number nine here is significant, as your eyes will tell you. Odd numbers were considered sacrosanct in imperial China – nine (jiǔ) is the highest single-digit odd number, as well as being a homonym for long life. The altar is arranged in three tiers, with the top tier containing nine rings of stones, arranged in multiples of nine. The stairs and balustrades are also multiples of nine.

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Nearby Temple of Heaven Park & Dongcheng South attractions

1. Echo Wall

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Thanks to its unique acoustic properties, a quiet spoken word or two against this circular wall can be heard at the opposite point, some 65m away …

2. Imperial Vault of Heaven


Inside the Echo Wall, this ornate building was merely a storeroom, used to keep the spirit tablets of the gods and other materials used for the ceremonies…

3. Temple of Heaven South Gate

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Also known as the Zhaoheng Gate (昭亨门; Zhāohēng Mén) the emperor and entourage would enter the temple complex through here. It's now one of the four main…

4. Temple of Heaven Park

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An oasis of methodical Confucian design, the 267-hectare Temple of Heaven Park is unique. It originally served as a vast stage for solemn rites performed…

5. Taiyuan Gate


With nine considered an auspicious number, this gate was one of the nine altar gates within the Temple of Heaven Park complex. Note that you cannot enter…

6. Red Stairway Bridge


This grand walkway leads north from the Imperial Vault of Heaven to the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests.

8. Fasting Palace

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This palace complex close to the West Heavenly Gate was used by the emperor for three days prior to conducting the winter solstice ceremony at the Round…