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Temple of Xiannong
    2008-09-24 09:22:14     CRIENGLISH.com

 In ancient times, ritual ceremonies were performed at certain festivals where the emperors of China would pray to gods at different altars. Most people think there are four major temples in Beijing -- the Temples of Heaven, Earth, Sun and Moon. But there is actually another one called the Temple of Xiannong.

It was the temple where the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties offered sacrifices to Xiannong, the god of agriculture and others. It was also a place for the royal family to do plowing themselves and experience the life of farmers. Now the Temple of Xiannong is known as the Beijing Ancient Architecture Museum.

Here is our reporter Xiao Yu.

Reporter:

The Temple of Xiannong is located on the west side of Beijing's central axis line and opposite the Temple of Heaven. It was built in the Ming Dynasty nearly 600 years ago.

Xiannong was the god of agriculture. At the beginning of the agricultural season every spring, emperors came to the temple and performed rituals to ensure a bountiful harvest.

Zhang Min, the spokesman of the Beijing Ancient Architecture Museum, says several gods were worshipped here, unlike at the other four temples that were decdicated to only one god.

"The Temple of Xiannong is a typical temple complex of China's ritual architecture. Besides the God of Agriculture, there were some other gods such as the God of Mountains, Jupiter and Wind that were worshipped here. These deities are mostly gods of nature who might help with good harvests."

At the end of China's dynastic period, the Temple of Xiannong stopped serving as a place of worship and was used for several other functions. For almost 100 years, it served as a park, a market, a school and a factory, but its achitecture was well maintained.

Renovation of the temple started in the late 1980s, and it was opened to the public as the Beijing Ancient Architecture Museum in 1991. The major renovations were completed by 2003 and the main buildings were restored to their original appearances.

Zhang Min explains in further details.

"The total area of the Temple of Xiannong is about 73,000 square meters, and the area that is open to the public is around 30,000 square meters. The main existing buildings in the temple complex are the Altar of the God Xiannong, the Temple of the God of Jupiter, the Hall of Worshipping, the Divine Kitchen, the divine Storage, the Dressing Hall, the Platform of Viewing Planting and the Qingcheng Hall. All the buildings remain in the architectural style of the Ming Dynasty."

Only a few visitors a day come to the Temple of Xiannong, quite a contrast to the hordes that crowd into the other four temples. But Xiannong's relative quietness lets them carefully appreciate the buildings and ancient culture.

Guo Dahuan is visiting here for the first time and says he is greatly impressed by the complex.

"As the altar of sacrificing the God of Agriculture, the temple complex has less adornments than other palaces in Beijing. Although it is not as magnificent as the Forbidden City, it is really decent and definitely worth a visit."

The museum hosts year-round architectural exhibitions with artifacts, photos of historical buildings and elaborate models on display. Professional architects and people interested in architecture come here often to learn about and admire China's ancient architecture.

Aisling Dunn from Ireland says she is fascinated by the temple's architecture and the models.

"The wooden models of other buildings here show you the roof of how it was constructed. That was great. You can see how intricate the corners of the pagoda (are). They are incredibly intricate with 17 or 18 pieces of wood in the one corner of the building. When I came into this building, I found the ceiling to be amazing. It's circular, and it's very beautifully carved with little buildings carved within the ceiling. And the whole layout of the complex is lovely as well."

The Temple of Xiannong is not just a place for appreciating the marvelous creativity of ancient people, but also a venue for educational and ex-curricular activities. It provides exhibitions and activities for youngsters to learn about China's history and architecture.

As a theme museum, the temple is not as well-known as the Temple of Heaven or the Forbidden City. But if you are fed up with the crowds and noise at the more popular temples and other sites, the Temple of Xiannong is undoubtedly a good place to visit. You can enjoy the peaceful atmosphere or just sit quietly in the courtyard and imagine what it was like here hundreds of years ago.

 
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