Circular Mound Altar – a place for sacrificial ceremonies

Circular Mound Altar - a place for sacrificial ceremonies

The Circular Mound Altar (圜丘), located in the Temple of Heaven complex in Beijing, China, is a magnificent structure with profound historical and cultural significance. Built during the Ming Dynasty in 1530, it was used by emperors for sacrificial ceremonies to pray for good harvests and the well-being of the nation.

Layout and Architecture: The Circular Mound Altar is an open-air circular platform composed of three tiers, constructed entirely from white marble. The circular shape symbolizes heaven, while the square-shaped base represents Earth. The altar is meticulously designed with precise astronomical and cosmological principles.

The Circular Platform: The main feature of the altar is the circular platform, consisting of three tiers. Each tier is a separate marble terrace, and the entire structure is approximately 38 meters (125 feet) in diameter. The three tiers are known as the “Heavenly Center,” the “Middle Circle,” and the “Earthly Surrounding.”

The Balustrade: Surrounding the Circular Mound Altar is a beautifully carved marble balustrade. The balustrade is intricately adorned with dragons and clouds, symbolizing the imperial authority and the divine nature of the ceremonies held here.

The Imperial Pathway: A raised imperial pathway leads from the south to the Circular Mound Altar, passing through the Gate of Prayer for Good Harvests. This pathway was exclusively used by the emperor during the ceremonies and is aligned with important celestial patterns.

The Echo Wall and Triple Sound Stones: The Circular Mound Altar is renowned for its remarkable acoustic properties. The Echo Wall, encircling the altar, reflects sound waves perfectly, allowing even the slightest whisper to be heard clearly on the opposite side. At the center of the altar, there are three sound stones called the “Triple Sound Stones,” where a single clap creates echoes resembling the sound of three claps.

The Heart of Heaven Stone: At the center of the uppermost terrace lies the Heart of Heaven Stone. It is a circular marble slab with a precise location marking the center of the altar. During ceremonies, the emperor would stand on this stone, symbolizing his direct connection to heaven.

The Sacrificial Rituals: The Circular Mound Altar was the sacred site where emperors performed elaborate sacrificial rituals. These rituals were held during the Winter Solstice, when the emperor would pray for a bountiful harvest and the well-being of the people. The ceremonies followed strict protocols and were considered a vital aspect of imperial governance.

The Circular Mound Altar in the Temple of Heaven is not only a remarkable architectural achievement but also a testament to the ancient Chinese understanding of the harmony between heaven and earth. It stands as a testament to the rich cultural heritage of China and continues to be a revered historical and cultural site.

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