This ancient capital has had it’s fair share of makeovers. After being home to Mongol, Ming and Qing Dynasties, it has been razed and rebuilt several times. A mix of old and new is ever more apparent, thanks to the Summer Olympic Games of 2008. The metro system and many public areas were upgraded for this. The impressive Olympic Village which houses the main stadium, the Bird’s Nest and swimming stadium, the Water Cube, dominant the site.
It is especially nice at night when it is lit up in many colours. A fortunate surprise of our mid-winter visit, was the opportunity to go “ice-chair skating” in the frozen stream running beside the Bird’s Nest. Unique!
An essential experience is to stroll (or cycle) through the city’s many old hutongs. These narrow streets/alleys are formed by lines of courtyard residences. Sadly, many of these traditional hutongs are being removed to make way for more modern residential developments. Others are being saved thanks to tourism.
The Temple of Heaven is an enormous complex of religious buildings used by the Emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties for annual ceremonies of prayer to Heaven for good harvest. Constructed from 1406 to 1420 by the Yongle Emperor (who also constructed the Forbidden City), it has been added to and renovated by later Emperors.
The circular spired roofs can be seen for miles. The three main buildings are the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, Imperial Vault of Heaven, and the Circular Mound Altar.
In 1779, when Emperor Qianlong was 70 years old, due to his health, he made officials open this door to make his walk shorter for ceremonies. To ensure his offspring wouldn’t abuse this convenience, he issued a decree stating, “Only his offspring who reach the age of 70 may use this door, hence the Seventy-Year-Old Door.
Each building’s design symbolizes the Earth as square and Heaven as round. The number nine represents the Emperor, and this auspicious number is used everywhere in Chinese designs. Doors will always have gold details in rows of nine for example.
The temple grounds are massive, with open paved walkways, many great trees and walls with moats. A circular wall, the Echo Wall, can supposedly allow you to hear a whisper that travels from one end to the other. Did you hear that?
Visited 4th to 6th February 2014.