Temple of Agriculture

Address: No 21 Dongjing Road Xiannongtan Xuanwu Dis.
Tel: +86-10-81959504
Entrance Fee: None

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Introduction

Xiannong Tan (Temple of Agriculture or Agriculture God Altar) is located slightly to the west of right southern part of Forbidden City. It is strategically located to the east of Temple of Heaven. Xiannong Tan was named as Shanchuan Tan (Hills and Rivers Altar) when it first built in 1420 and served as the place where sacrificial ceremonies for Goddess of Hills, Goddess of Rivers as well as Goddess of Taisui were taken place for both Ming and Qing Dynasty. The original design of Xiannong Tan was strictly according to the principles of building architecture as well as the overall landscape design in Nanjing, the previous capital before Beijing was set as the capital of Ming Dynasty. The cultural beliefs of Nanjing had result in the sacrificial ceremonies for a number of Goddesses to be carried out at the same altar. Later in 1531, another two altars for Goddess of Heaven and Goddess of Earth were constructed at the southern part of the inner wall. This temple was then renamed as Xiannong Tan in year 1576. After that, not much change in case of the architecture designs as well as the combination of buildings was made and the name is kept on using even until today.

The Goddess of Xiannong was named this way since Han Dynasty. Before Han Dynasty, Goddess of Xiannong was generally referred by Dishe or Wangshe. Worshipping the Goddess of Xiannong as well as the ceremony of farming hosted by the emperor himself was an important cultural belief in ancient China. This ceremony had been practiced ever since Zhou Dynasty (770 BC to 256 BC) and was categorized as one of the most important imperial practices for both Ming and Qing Dynasty. On a specific day according to Chinese lunar calendar, the emperor would lead all the ministers to take part in the ceremony of sacrifices offering for the Goddess of Xiannong and later followed by the Farming Ceremony.
Xiannong Tan has been surrounded by double layers of walls which covers an area of 1.3 million square meters. The outline of the temple is similar to the shape of Temple of Heaven which shows a semi circular on the northern part and a rectangular shape on the southern part. The length of the outer wall of the temple is 1,424 meters and the width is 700 meters. However, the northern part of the outer wall had been destroyed when time flies. The inner wall with length of 446 meters and width 306 meters still remains.

Xiannong Tan (Temple of Agriculture) is consisted of five groups of building structures which including Qingcheng Gong (Achievement Celebration Palace), Taisui Dian, Shenchu (Holy Kitchen), Shencang (Holy Storage) and Jufu Dian. Besides that there are 4 altars throughout the whole temple, including Guangeng Tai (Farming Viewing Platform), Xiannong Tan (Altar of Agriculture), Tianshen Tan (Altar for the Goddess of Heaven) and Dizhi Tan (Altar for the Goddess of Earth). Most of these structures were built within the wall of the Temple except Qingcheng Gong (Achievement Celebration Palace), Tianshen Tan (Altar for the Goddess of Heaven) and Dizhi Tan (Altar for the Goddess of Earth) which were located beyond the wall. A piece of good land could be found right in front of the Guangeng Tai (Farming Viewing Platform) which was specifically used as the place for the emperor to host the ceremony.

Majority of the building structure of Xiannong Tan including the building architectures within the wall of the temple was built ever since the Ming Dynasty and renovation was taken place during Emperor Qianlong of Qing Dynasty. In other word, this means that all the building structures are having over 400 years of history. As a result, the architecture designs as well as the overall plan of the temple are showing a heavy sign of cultural heritage of Ming Dynasty. All these structures were designed according to their actual use during the sacrificial ceremony such as the palace architecture and the functional buildings.

According to the historical records, the emperor was first completed the ceremony for sacrifices offering to the Goddess of Xiannong. Later, the emperor would change another dressing in order to host the Farming Ceremony at Jufu Dian before he attended the ceremony. Finally, the emperor would return to the Guangeng Tai (Farming Viewing Platform) to rest and witness the work of the ministers after he finished the Farming Ceremony. In the autumn the land production of this piece of land would be stored at Shencang (Holy Storage) for the use of sacrificial offering at the nine altars and eight temples throughout Beijing in coming year.

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