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Altar of the Earth

Altar of the Earth

Write: Saul [2014-02-07]

It is located on Andingmenwai Street, in the Dongcheng District. The altar is a square, two-storied building enclosed by a square ditch. Hence, originally it was called Fangze Altar (Fangze meaning 'square ditch'). The Fangze Altar was built in 1530 during the reign of the Emperor Jiajing of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). This was the sacred place used by the emperors of Ming and Qing dynasties to worship the God of the Earth.


It is the last remaining altar for worshipping the God of the Earth. From 1531 to 1911, 14 emperors used this alter as a place of sacrifice. At that time, worshipping the gods of Heaven and Earth was a very important part of religious activity. This practice dates all the way back to prehistoric agricultural production.


The Fangze Altar is the best-preserved piece of architecture used for worshipping the God of the Earth. Its original design imitated the altar of the earth on Zhongshan Mountain in Nanjing. When the Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) reigned, the park went through large-scale reconstruction and enlargement.


It covers a square-shaped plot of about 37.4 hectares (92.4 acres). All of its architecture was designed according to the Chinese ancient Five Elements Theory, Round Sky and Square Earth Theory and the symbols of 'Dragon & Phoenix' and 'Heaven & Earth'. Today, in addition to the Alter of the Earth, visitors can see a number of ancient buildings such as Huangqishi, Zaishengting, Zhaigong and Shenku.


Huangqishi (the House of Worship for the Earth God) is one of the major buildings in it. Throughout the Ming and Qing dynasties, this was used as a spot of worship for the God of the Earth and many other Chinese gods. In 1986, it converted into an exhibition room of cultural and historical relics.


Zaishengting (Slaughter Pavilion) is the place in which bulls, pigs, goats and deer were slaughtered. Animals were killed on the day before the worship ceremony, and then prepared as the sacrificial offerings.


Before participating in a worship ceremony, emperors would fast in Zhaigong (Fast Palace). Zhaigong was used by emperors Shunzhi, Kangxi, Yongzheng, Qianlong and Jiaqing of the Qing Dynasty. It is made up of three palaces, which were built in 1530 and then rebuilt in 1730.


Shenku (Holy Storehouse) stores the sedan chairs used to carry the spirit tablets of the gods. The storehouse was also used to temporarily house the spirit tablets when Huangqishi was under repair. Three other large halls and two well pavilions surround Shenku. Shenchu (Holy Kitchen) was the west hall, and functioned as a preparation area for sacrificial food.  The east hall stored the utensils used in worship. The south hall held the musical instruments used for the worship. The two well pavilions provided water for the ditch surrounding the Fangze Altar and the Holy Kitchen.


In addition to the cultural and historical architecture and relics, the ancient trees in it are also well worth seeing. The park is home to 168 ancient trees, many of which are more than 300 years old. Arborvitae, juniper, elm, ginkgo and locust are among the most common.