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Imperial Vault of Heaven (Huangqiongyu)

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Imperial Vault of Heaven
Imperial Vault of Heaven

Located to the north of the Circular Mound Altar, the Imperial Vault of Heaven was a place to worship the tablet of God of Heaven and the tablets of the emperors' ancestors. It was built in 1530 during the reign of Emperor Jiajing in the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644), and was given the name “Taishendian”. Later it was renamed Imperial Vault of Heaven (Huangqiongyu) in 1538.

The Imperial Vault of Heaven is 17 meters (55.8 feet) in height and 19 meters (20.8 yards) in diameter. It is situated on a 3-meter-high (9.8 feet) round Xumi Base (the pedestal or base of a Buddhist tower, or temple), showing the god of heaven’s great dignity in the palace on the earth. There is also a giant, vivid and exquisite stone relief of "two dragons are playing with a pearl" in the central part of the steps of the Xumi Base.

The Xumi Base was a typical architectural foundation in ancient China. It evolved from the base of the Buddhist statue and was usually made of bricks and stones. In the Tang and Song dynasties, the Xumi Base reached its zenith. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, the shape and decoration of the Xumi Base were not as rich as before, but the technique and handiwork came to a higher level.

The hall of Imperial Vault of Heaven is supported by eight golden posts and eight eave posts. Right in the center of the hall is a round white marble stone base with delicate patterns. On the base is housed a shrine, in which the tablet of God of Heaven is worshipped. Because the hall is considered as the house of the God of Heaven on the earth, it was named Imperial Vault of Heaven instead of the traditional "palace" or "hall". 

East Annex Hall
East Annex Hall

Right in the south of the Imperial Vault of Heaven are three arch-style doors, commonly known as glazed doors, on which were painted with exquisite yellow and green paintings. They are one of the only glazed buildings with color paintings existing in Beijing. In the west and east, there are two annex halls. In the east hall are worshipped the tablets of the God of the Sun, the Big Dipper, the five stars of Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water, as well as some others in the heaven. In the west hall are consecrated the tablets of the God of the Moon, the Wind, the Rain, the Thunder, and the Clouds.

Just outside of the main hall is  the well-known Echo Wall, Triple-sound Stone and Dialogue-Stone. Just as its name implies, the Echo Wall is in fact a wall having the function of echoing, serving as the courtyard hall of the Imperial Vault of Heaven. It is 3.72 meters (12.2 feet) in height, 0.9 meters (3 feet) in thickness, 61.5 meters (201.7 feet) in diameter and 193.2 meters (633.9 feet) in circumference. The wall was built of bricks, covered with blue glazed tiles on top. The wall has a perfect radius and extremely smooth surface, so it can well reflect sound waves. As long as two people stand against the wall separately behind the east and west annex halls, and one of them speaks towards north. The sound waves would be reflected along the wall ahead, spreading one or two hundred meters long to the other side. No matter how low the voice is, the other person can hear clearly. Particularly, the drawn-out sound shows a mysteriousness of “interactions between the heaven and mankind”.

Beside the echo Wall, the special stone slabs paving the floor in front of the main hall, such as the Triple-sound Stone and Dialogue-Stone, also have the fantastic acoustic effect. The Triple-sound Stone, also known as 'Three Geniuses Stone' (the heaven, the earth and the man), lies on the axis paved path leading to the main hall the Imperial Vault of Heaven. Speaking when standing on the first stone slab, you will hear the echo once. Speaking when standing on the second stone slab, you will hear the echo twice. On the third stone slab, three times, and so on. The 18th stone slab from the Xumi Base is called Dialogue-Stone, standing on which, you can make normal conversations with people who stand 36 meters (39.4 yards) away at the northeast corner of the East Annex Hall or the northwest corner of the West Annex Hall. Amazingly, the three points just form an equilateral triangle with 36 meters (39.4 yards) in length on one side. If leaving these three points, there will no longer be such and acoustic effect.

 Go to the Next Attraction: Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest 

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