The Temple of Heaven, literally the Altar of Heaven is a complex of religious buildings situated in the southeastern part of central Beijing. The complex was visited by the Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties for annual ceremonies of prayer to Heaven for good harvest. It has been regarded as a Taoist temple, although Chinese Heaven worship, especially by the reigning monarch of the day, pre-dates Taoism.
The temple complex was constructed from 1406 to 1420 during the reign of the Yongle Emperor, who was also responsible for the construction of the Forbidden City in Beijing. The complex was extended and renamed Temple of Heaven during the reign of the Jiajing Emperor in the 16th century. The Jiajing Emperor also built three other prominent temples in Beijing, the Temple of Sun in the east, the Temple of Earth in the north, and the Temple of Moon in the west . The Temple of Heaven was renovated in the 18th century under the Qianlong Emperor. Due to the deterioration of state budget, this became the last large-scale renovation of the temple complex in the imperial time.
The temple was occupied by the Anglo-French Alliance during the Second Opium War. In 1900, during the Boxer Rebellion, the Eight Nation Alliance occupied the temple complex and turned it into the force’s temporary command in Beijing, which lasted for one year. The occupation desecrated the temple and resulted in serious damage to the building complex and the garden. Robberies of temple artifacts by the Alliance were also reported. With the downfall of the Qing, the temple complex was left unmanaged. The neglect of the temple complex led to the collapse of several halls in the following years.
In 1914, Yuan Shikai, then President of the Republic of China, performed a Ming prayer ceremony at the temple, as part of an effort to have himself declared Emperor of China. In 1918 the temple was turned into a park and for the first time open to the public.
The Temple of Heaven was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998 and was described as "a masterpiece of architecture and landscape design which simply and graphically illustrates a cosmogony of great importance for the evolution of one of the world?s great civilizations…" as the "symbolic layout and design of the Temple of Heaven had a profound influence on architecture and planning in the Far East over many centuries." The surroundings of the Temple of Heaven are now a very popular park for exercising.