This magnificent Taoist temple complex is where all Tai'an roads lead, being the traditional first stop on the pilgrimage route up Tai Shan. The grounds, enclosed within mighty walls, are an impressive example of Song-dynasty (960–1127) temple construction with features of an imperial palace, though other structures stood here 1000 years before that.
Many visitors enter from the north through Hou Zai gate (which you can climb for views of Tai Shan), but entering from the south through Zhengyang gate allows you to follow the traditional passage through the main temple and up Hongmen Lu to the start of Tai Shan's Central Route ascent.
From the south end, two lions watch cars pass by on Dongyue Dajie, flanking the splendid páifāng (ornamental arch). Beyond this and the Zhengyang gate is the Yaocan Pavilion.
Between the buildings, the courtyards are filled with prized examples of poetry and imperial records. Fossilised-looking bìxì (the mythical tortoise son of the dragon), dating from the 12th century onwards, carry stelae on their backs documenting everything from the civil exam process to emperors’ birthdays. The Han Emperor Wudi himself is said to have planted some of the massive, twisting trees in the Cypress Tree Pavilion 2100 years ago.
The main hall is the colossal Hall of Heavenly Blessing, which dates from AD 1009, and whose dark interior houses an exquisite, 62m-long Song-dynasty mural depicting a journey undertaken by Emperor Zhenzong as the Lord of Tai Shan, the god of longevity to whom the entire complex is dedicated.