The Temple of Heaven, situated in southeastern Beijing, is the largest extant sacrificial temple in China. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, it was the site of imperial sacrifices to Heaven.
It was here that the emperor conducted the elaborate and most exalted sacrifices addressed to "the Supreme Ruler of the Universe." Construction of the Temple of Heaven was begun in the year 1406 during the reign of the Ming Emperor Yongle. It took 14 years to complete. It was later expanded under the Qing emperors Qianlong (1736-1796) and Jiaqing (1796-1820).
The area of the Temple of Heaven is more than twice that of the Imperial Palace, occupying 2,668 hectares, or about 6,670 acres. The three main structures used in the sacrifices are circular, corresponding to the supposed shape of Heaven. The glazed tile roofs of the buildings are deep blue and the platforms constructed of slabs of white marble. Each of the three platforms consists of three tiers, making a total of nine tiers-nine in Chinese cosmology representing Heaven. The number and layout of every single slab used in the platforms is determined according to cosmological principles.
Originally the Temple of Heaven had only one main gate, which faced west, but after it was made a public park in 1949, entrances were also opened on the northern, southern and eastern sides. The Bridge of Cinnabar Steps (Danbiqiao), a 360-meter-long stone walkway, connects the main architectural structures of the temple-the Hall of Prayer for a Good Year (Qiniandian) to the north and the Hall of the Imperial Heavenly Vault (Huanqiongyu) and the Altar of Heaven (Huanqiu) to the south.
The section of wall enclosing the southern end of the temple grounds is square, while that in the Northern end is semi-circular, based on the ancient notion that the Earth is square and Heaven round. Old cypress trees surround the buildings, creating an appropriately spiritual atmosphere. The Temple of Heaven has two walls with inner and outer sections, inner reserved for important sacrificial structures and the outer occupied by auxiliary buildings.