The Temple of Earth (Ditan Park) is one of the key historic sites under national protection. It is located in Andingmen Outer Street in Dongcheng District. It was the place where the emperors of the Ming Dynasty and Qing Dynasty offered sacrifices to the Earth. It was the largest as well as the only surviving one of its kind. Sacrifices offered by 14 emperors continued here for 381 years until the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1912. In 1925, it was made a park open to the public. In 1926, when troops were stationed here, it went into disrepair. In 1938, when Japanese invaders started to build an airport in the western suburbs of Beijing, they ordered residents of the requisitioned area to move here. That was when the park was closed to the public. Since 1949, it has been reopened as a public park.
The temple is also known as the Fangzetan Altar. It was first built in 1530, or the ninth year of Jiajing in the Ming Dynasty. In the Qing Dynasty it was expanded and rebuilt many times. The current layout came into being in the years of Qianlong, when Fangzetan Altar and Earth Deity Shrine, the principal parts of it, were rebuilt.
The park covers an area of 430,000 square meters, 374,000 square meters of which is officially managed. Facing north, it is encircled by two layers of square walls, which divide it into the inner part and the outer part. The inner wall has four gates in it, while the outer wall has only one gate in its west side. This latter gate is connected by an Altar Street to the Andingmen Outer Street. At the west end of the street is a wooden three-bay archway, with four pillars and seven layers, which serves to guide tourists to the temple.
The central axis of the inner part is slightly inclined to the east. The main buildings are divided into three sections. The Fangzetan Altar and the Earth Deity Hall are on the central axis. To the west of Fangzetan Altar are the sacred warehouse and the Slaughter Pavilion. To its northwest are such subsidiary buildings as Fast Hall, the bell tower, and the sacred stable. The inner eaves of the buildings are decorated with colored double-phoenix-and-imperial-seal patterns. The cypresses around them give them a solemn look.
Fangzetan Altar, the main part of the temple, used to be the place for grand sacrifices made by the imperial family. It is known to common people as the Worship Platform. The square platform, symbolizing the earth, is encircled by a ditch symbolizing a river. The temple's south-facing layout and its yin-number paving signify the earth's being yin, and the yellow of the glazed tiles signify the color of the earth. The five-bay Earth Deity Hall, which lies to the south of the Fangzetan Altar, faces north. It is encircled by a wall, which has a gate in its north side. The tops of the wall and the gate tower are covered with yellow glazed tiles. In the hall is a spirit tablet of the Deity of Earth. The colored double-phoenix-and-imperial-seal mural in the hall dates back to the years of Qianlong.
In the park are large vacant lots covered with over 36,000 trees and 82,000 square meters of meadow. There are 174 trees that are over 200 years old. The three ancient cypresses outside the Fangzetan Altar are quite special. They are called 'the generals'. The Old General has a girth of 4.8 meters; the Great General, 5.15 meters; and the One-armed General, 3.16 meters. The last one has been wounded so many times that only one branch remains, hence its name.
In the park are kept some ritual vessels specially made by government-run porcelain kilns in Jingdezhen, Jiangxi Province for imperial sacrifices during Emperor Guangxu's reign in the Qing Dynasty. These genuine vessels, well preserved, are of great historical value. They are designated as second-class national cultural relics.
Before the founding of the People's Republic, the park had been overgrown with weeds, and the houses had fallen into serious disrepair. Since 1949, as the country became wealthier, all the houses, such as the Fast Hall, the Fangzetan Altar, and the Deity Hall, have been renovated; the archway and the bell tower have been rebuilt. Some new scenic spots, such as the Peony Garden, the Jifang Garden, the China Rose Garden, and the Ginkgo Path, have been added. The environs of the park have also been extensively renovated. As a result, its former solemnity has been restored, and it looks lively with the additional attractions.
Since 1985, before every Spring Festival, a cultural fair has been held in the park for 21 times. The fair features a performance of offering sacrifice to the earth as it was done in the Qing Dynasty as well as that of folk customs. It enjoys a reputation at home and abroad for its artistic value and distinctive Chinese national features.
Address: Andingmen Outer Street, Dongcheng District, Beijing
Bus: 13, 18, 116, 807, 104, 108, 808
Admission: 2 RMB