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Beihai Gongyuan (Beihai Park) and the Temple of Heaven

An oasis in the sprawling concrete and modern buildings of Beijing

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Beihai Gongyuan (Beihai Park)

The Hidden Beijing Oasis, Beihai Gongyuan (Beihai Park) is an over 1,000 year old imperial classic mixture of northern and southern chinese style gardens. This morning we were greeting with a surprise of a beautiful blue Beijing sky with a cool breeze and warm sun so we tracked on down to Beihai.

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Beihai Park was initially built in the Liao Dynasty (916 - 1125) and was repaired and rebuilt in the following dynasties including Jin, Yuan, Ming and Qing (1115 - 1911). The large-scale rebuilding in the reign of Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911) generally established the present scale and pattern of Beihai Park.

Beihai Park covers an area of about 0.71 sq km (about 0.27 sq miles), more than half of which is taken up by the lake. In the middle of the lake and on the central axis of the whole park lies the Jade Flowery Islet, topped by the imposing White Dagoba which is the landmark of Beihai Park. Besides the Jade Flowery Islet, the park has four main scenic areas: the Eastern Shore Area, the Northern Shore Area, the Botanical Garden and the Circular City near the north gate. There are many famous and beautiful places you should not miss when touring Beihai Park.

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On top of the Jade Flowery Islet, the White Dagoba was built in 1651 on the former site of the Palace in the Moon where Kublai Khan received Marco Polo. At the suggestion of a famous Tibetan lama, Emperor Shunzhi, the first emperor of the Qing Dynasty agreed to build such a Tibetan dagoba to show his belief in Buddhism and his desire for the unification among various Chinese ethnic groups. The White Dagoba was destroyed in an earthquake and reconstructed twice. Now, resting on a huge stone base, it stands 35.9 meters (about 118 feet) high and is capped by two bronze umbrella-like canopies, with 14 bronze bells hanging around them. Inside, the dagoba holds the Buddhist Scriptures, the monk's mantle and alms bowl and two pieces of Sarira. Since the White Dagoba is the highest point in Beihai Park, it served as a vantage point with a beautiful view of the whole park.

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In front of the White Dagoba is the White Dagoba Temple. There are several other buildings and halls you could visit if you have enough time. These include Zhengjue Hall, the Bell and Drum Towers, the Stone Tablets of 'Qiongdao Chunyin' (means the beautiful scenery of the Jade Flowery Islet in spring; inscribed by Emperor Qianlong of Qing Dynasty) etc, all scattered on the slope of the Qionghua Islet.

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It was great to watch the chinese caligraphy artists writing in water along the old pathways, listening to elderly persons singing in groups in the temple areas. We also learned and became hooked playing a game called Jianzi, which is like hackeysack only played with a special shuttlecock. We played that game for about an hour!

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Overall, this was Ben's most favourite park and resting spot in Beijing proper and we recommend it to anyone as a top destination to just sit, take a nice long slow walk and enjoy this oasis in the cement and asphalt modern forest which is Beijing.

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Thomas, Alexis and Sophie also had a great time with Mr. Liu dressing up and pretending to be Emperors and Empresses.

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The Temple of Heaven

Afterwards, we headed to the Temple of Heaven complex. An interesting fact is that while the Emperor's called themselves the Sons of Heaven, they made sure that the Temple of Heaven complex which was built to the gods was larger than their own Forbidden City! It sprawls on and on in lush greens and colours.

The Temple was built in 1420 A.D. during the Ming Dynasty to offer sacrifice to Heaven.

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The Temple of Heaven is enclosed with a long wall. The northern part within the wall is semicircular symbolizing the heavens and the southern part is square symbolizing the earth. The northern part is higher than the southern part. This design shows that the heaven is high and the earth is low and the design reflected an ancient Chinese thought of 'The heaven is round and the earth is square'.

The Temple is divided by two enclosed walls into inner part and outer part. The main buildings of the Temple lie at the south and north ends of the middle axis line of the inner part. The most magnificent buildings are The Circular Mound Altar (Yuanqiutan), Imperial Vault of Heaven (Huangqiongyu) and Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest (Qiniandian) from south to north. Also, there are some additional buildings like Three Echo Stones and Echo Wall.Almost all of the buildings are connected by a wide bridge called Vermilion Steps Bridge (Danbiqiao) or called Sacred Way.

We enjoyed the Vault of Heaven and we tested out the saying that you can hear an echo anywhere within that encircled temple section. It is true! Using a very soft voice, you can still pick up what the other person is saying on the other side, it was pretty interesting.

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The Circular Altar has three layered terraces with white marble. During the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368 A.D. - 1911 A.D.), the emperors would offer sacrifice to Heaven on the day of the Winter Solstice every year. This ceremony was to thank Heaven and hope everything would be good in the future. Also, if you stood in the middle flagstone in the circular altar and stomped your foot extremely hard, you would hear the voices of men down below. We tried, but couldn't recreat that although the altar was filled with people.

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The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest is a big palace with round roof and three layers of eaves. Inside the Hall are 28 huge posts. The four posts along the inner circle represent four seasons-spring, summer, autumn and winter; the 12 posts along the middle circle represent the 12 months; and 12 posts along the outer circle represent 12 Shichen (Shichen is a means of counting time in ancient China. One Shichen in the past equaled two hours and a whole day was divided into 12 Shichens). The roof is covered with black, yellow and green colored glaze representing the heavens, the earth and everything on earth. The Hall has a base named Altar for Grain Prayers which is made of three layers of white marble and has a height of six meters. Another important building in Temple of Heaven is Imperial Vault of Heaven. If you look at it from far away, you will find that the Vault is like a blue umbrella with gold head. The structure of it is like that of Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, but smaller in size. The structure was made of bricks and timber. The Vault was used to place memorial tablets of Gods. White marble railings surround the vault.

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The Vermilion Steps Bridge connects the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest and the Imperial Vault of Heaven. The south end of the Bridge is lower than its north end. The emperors in the past believed that they could go to heaven through this Bridge, which is why this bridge is also called Sacred Way. A Yu Route and a Wang Route are on two sides of the Sacred Way. The former one is only for the emperors to walk on and the later one is for the princes and the high officials to pass.

At the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, off to the side is a very special door called the 70 year old door. Only one emperor ever used that (as only one ever made it to such an old age!) and decreed that to stop his children and offspring from becoming lazy, that only an imperial family member aged 70 or more could access it (as it cuts the length of the route back to the Forbidden City by quite a lot). Near that door is a 500 year old Cyprus tree called the 9 Gnarled Dragon tree. We stopped nearby to listen to a great group of chinese opera musicians playing that was just fantastic.

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The Beijing Centre for Performing Arts

We then stopped by the Centre for Performing Arts which is a HUGE glass and metal dome. We made it inside just in time as a large storm came for about 20 minutes pouring rain. Inside, we listened to a woman singing various opera songs, looked at an art gallery and then headed home after a long day out.

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Posted by giffords 08:04 Archived in China Tagged family_travel

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