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Altar of the God of Agriculture

Alter of the God of AgricultureThe Xiannongtan (Altar of the God of Agriculture), situated in Xuanwu District, was the place where the emperors of Ming and Qing dynasties offered sacrifices to Shennong (Holy Farmer), the God of Agriculture. The altar was first built in 1420, the 18th year of Ming Emperor Yongle's reign, for the purpose of collectively offering sacrifices to the gods of the Mountain, the River and the Year. In 1530, the 9th year of his reign, Ming Emperor Jiajing began to offer sacrifices to the gods respectively. The emperor rebuilt the altar, which brought it the current layout, and promoted the scale and rank of the sacrificial rites. Later, Emperor Wanli of the same dynasty renamed the altar present name in 1576 when the Sacrificial Agency of the Altar of the God of Agriculture was established. The Qing Dynasty continued to use the sacrificial system of Ming Dynasty and renovated or rebuilt it many times.

After the Revolution of 1911, the royal sacrificial altar, lost its original functions and was opened to the public as a park in 1915. In 1936, the southeast part of the park was converted into a playground, becoming the biggest public-sports ground within Beijing City at that time. In 1979, the Altar of the God of Agriculture became a protected important cultural relic unit of Beijing. In 2001, it was inscribed on the list of historical monuments&cultural relics under state protection.

The Altar of the God of Agriculture is a single, storied square terrace, which is built with bricks and stones. 15 meters in length and width, the altar is 1.5 meters high. There is a flight of eight steps on each side. A 5-bayed hall sits north to the altar, where the tablet of God of the Agriculture was placed.

Buildings Around Altar of the God of Agriculture

Other buildings around Altar of the God of Agriculture include the Guangengtai, Jufudian, Shencang, Shenchu, Qingchenggong and Taisuidian. Guangengtai (PIalform of Watching Plough), facing the south and fenced by white marble banisters, is about 1.9 meters Taisuidian in Xiannongtanhigh. The four sides of the platform are covered with yellow and green glazed bricks. According to the rites of the Qing Dynasty, on the day of the spring equinox as fixed by the lunar calendar, the emperor would come to sacrifice to Shennong. Following the ceremony, the emperor would plow several furrows of land with his own hands and then retire to the Guangengtai to watch the princes and ministers finish the task. The Jufudian (Hall of Changing Clothes)standing north to the platform used to be the place where the emperor changed clothes before plough and sacrificial ceremonies.

There is a Shencang(Divine Granary)to the northeast of the Guangengtai, which collects and stores the harvested products from the cultivated land, so it was known as the "Number One Granary under Heaven". The Shenchu (Divine Kitchen) is just opposite to the Shencang, where the cook made the offerings for the sacrificial ceremonies. Qingchenggong (Palace of Celebrating Completion), which was the Zhaigong (Hall of Abstinence)in the Ming Dynasty, was given the present name during the reign of Qing Emperor Qianlong. The emperors rewarded princes and ministers with tea and fruit after the plough.

Taisuidian (Hall of the Year God) is situated In the southwest side of the north gate of Altar of the God of Agriculture. It was originally a place to offer sacrifices to the Year God (a god who controls the farming seasons and land productivity in a year) and the gods of spring, summer, autumn and winter. The imposing hall, 7- bayed in width, faces south and has a single-eaved gable-hip roof covered with black glazed tiles and edged with green glazed tiles. It is flanked by an 11- bayed subsidiary hall on each side.


Altar of the God of Agriculture Tour

 At present, the exhibition of the Beijing Ancient Architecture Museum mainly gathers in this group of buildings. During the tour to Altar of the God of Agriculture, travelers could get a deep understanding about the sacrifice in ancient times and also see the architectures followed the Ming and Qing Dynasties.