The following morning, we meet all our fellow travellers – 23 of us altogether. Our first tour was to the Temple of Heaven. However, the trip on the way gave us some surprises. Firstly, we saw the Olympic rings above the city, the Birds Nest and the Pool cube some mysterious totems and as always new innovations on the traditional motorbike. Beijing is now full of man – made canals and most were partly frozen.
The temple is surrounded by walls and until the revolution was only accessed by the Emperor. Inside the walls are gardens with various bits and pieces one being the Seven Star Stones. During the Ming Emperor Jiajing’s Reign, seven gigantic pacifying stones were placed to the southeast of the Great Hall of Sacrifice. These are stones with motifs of mountains engraved on them, not the meteors as the hearsay goes, symbolizing the seven peaks of the Taishan Mountains. After the Manchus came to the throne in central China, in order to show that the Manchu is one of the nationalities in China, Emperor Qianlong issued an edict for another stone to be placed in the direction of the northeast, meaning the Chinese nation is a big family and the country is unified. Interestingly this is also the site of China’s biggest dating agency – all the grandparents meet to exchange photos of their grandchildren and try to match them up with future partners because they are too busy to look for themselves. At least that is the explanation given for the crowd of grandparents congregating at the Seven-Star Stones by our guide Eddie.
The Temple of Heaven was built in the Ming Dynasty (AD 1420) by the emperor Zhu Di in the royal garden. Once a year, at winter solstice, the emperors came here to worship Heaven and to solemnly pray for a good harvest.
The design of the Temple of Heaven is complex, and reflects the mystical cosmological laws believed to be central to the workings of the universe. Both the overall arrangement and the buildings themselves reflect the relationship between sky and earth, the core of understanding of the Universe at that time.
The Temple is made up of various buildings including the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, the interior twenty-eight columns are divided into four central pillars to represent the seasons, twelve inner columns to represent the months, and twelve outer columns to represent the two – hour sections that make up a day. There are many such examples of this intense numerology at play. Another interesting fact is that the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest is built completely without nails.
I took plenty of photos including one of the locals playing dress up.
After a hard morning’s work we were scheduled to have lunch at Beijing’s best Peking Duck restaurant (Eddies’ words not mine). We boarded the bus and travelled deep into the heart of the city with the bus pulling up on a roundabout and discharging us to fight our way to the restaurant which was cleverly camouflaged as a building site. Another motorbike innovation sat out the front – the Peking Duck takeaways delivery van. You want to know the name of this restaurant – see below. We had the joy of watching the chefs cut up two ducks and fortunately there was other food to supplement this meagre amount of Peking Duck. I don’t know whether it was good or not – I hate duck.