The museum is in the Temple of Agriculture, breaking away from the noisy downtown area, with a peaceful environment, surrounded by hundred-year-old trees; it is a very classical place to visit. It is the first themed museum which collects, studies and displays ancient Chinese architectural technology, art and developmental history. It was first opened to the public on September 25, 1991. Current exhibitions are mainly displayed in the exhibition areas of Taisui Hall (太岁殿), Bai Hall (拜殿) and Xipei Hall (西配殿).
The main collections in the museum are "the Model of Beijing Old City" — the best one among Chinese sand tables; "Zaojin of Beijing Longfu Temple" — the only model of Chinese Zaojin art; "Qi’nian Hall Model of Beijing Temple of Heaven" — the scaled-down appearance and structure of it are exactly the same as those of real architecture; and some other models of ancient Chinese palaces and folk buildings, architectural relics and architectural patterns.
It interprets the essence of ancient Chinese architecture, which gives visitors a really eye-opening experience. With abundant colorful pictures and charts, vivid and delicate models, you can see how ancient Chinese buildings developed from aboriginal thatched houses to complex palace building structures in the Ming and Qing dynasties. Different archiectural styles take you into unique periods of ancient Chinese buildings, as well as different regional architectural styles: in northern China, the entire architectural layout is designed to show the supreme authority of the emperor and the hierarchy of the feudal society; in southern China, the charming architectures contain numerous sceneries within a limited space; in the middle of China, the buildings are traditional, plain and pragmatic. All of the historical and splendid ancient Chinese architecture will amaze you.
First built in Yongle in the 18th year of the Ming Dynasty (1420 AD), the Temple of Agriculture was a place where the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties held worship ceremonies for the earliest ancestor of agriculture, and did farming on their own. It is said that the earliest ancestor of agriculture was Emperor Yan, also known as Shennongshi (炎帝神农氏). He was a mythical Chinese emperor and was said to have tasted hundreds of herbs to test their medical effects, so as to cure mankind. His merits were respected by all Chinese descendants, so Chinese emperors built the Temple of Agriculture to worship him.
Boasting its profound historical culture and magnificent architectural style, the temple has long been a portrayal of ancient Eastern agricultural culture, an art treasure of conventional Chinese architecture. The exhibition introduces the historical ancient agricultural culture and the 600 years’ vicissitudes of ancient architectural complexes to visitors, aiming to take you back to Chinese agricultural history and enlighten you with the thought of "food is the first necessity of man, agriculture is the basis of food".
The temple is located in the west side of Inner Street, Yongding Gate, Xuanwu District, opposite the Temple of Heaven, and was the place where the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties grew produce by their own and watched farming.
Buildings inside the temple were gradually built in the Ming and Qing dynasties. The double wall has a circumference of three kilometers, covering an area of 130 hectare. The outer wall was built into a round shape in the northern part and a square shape in the southern part, which was later dismantled and only an inner wall is left now.
The altar is a square platform and is one of the main buildings in the temple. It is 15 meters in length, 15 meters in width and 1.5 meters in height; with stairs built in four directions, having eight steps in each set. It was first built in the Jiajing Period of the Ming Dynasty and then rebuilt in the Qianlong Period in the 19th year of the Qing Dynasty.
The platform is in the south of Xiannong Altar, facing the south, with stairs of eight steps each built in three directions (east, west and south). It is 16 meters square and 15 meters in height. It was first built in wood in the Jiajing Period of the Ming Dynasty, and then rebuilt in brick in the Qianlong Period of the 19th year of the Qing Dynasty (1755 AD). The edge is decorated by yellow glazed tiles and the whole platform is surrounded by white marble stone columns. In the period of the Republic of China, an octagonal colored glaze pavilion was built on the platform.
It is to the north of the Guangeng Platform and consists of five rooms, roofed by green glazed tiles, decorated by paintings of dragons, and with a brick-structure platform built outside it.
Also named Taisuitan (太岁坛), it is in the north-east of the Temple of Agriculture. Taisui Hall was built in the Jiajing Period in the 11th year (1532 AD). The hall is south and north oriented, consists of seven rooms, is decorated by black and green glazed tiles, and is 52 meters in width and 24 meters in depth.
In the east of Taisui Hall, Shencang is also called Dongyuan. It was originally known as Qidao Temple in the Ming Dynasty, and was rebuilt into Shencang in the Qianlong Period of the Qing Dynasty. The pavilion was covered by a tented roof and decorated by green glazed tiles. Standing inside the three Gongquan Gates of the south wall is Shencang, a storage place for five types of grain and sacrificial offerings.
It is outside the East Gate of Neitan, facing north. Originally known as the Fast Palace in the Ming Dynasty, it was renamed Qingcheng Palace in the Qianlong Period in the 25th year (1755 AD). It consists of five rooms of 23.8 meters in width and 9.1 meters in depth, and stairs built in three directions which have nine steps each, with white marble stone columns. The main hall is in front of the bedroom hall and between the side halls. The palace is where the emperors took a rest and rewarded the attendants and officials after the salute to agriculture.
To the east of Guangeng Platform, there are 13 mu （8,671 square meters） farmlands for the emperor to grow produce. After the emperor worshipped in the Temple of Agriculture, he changed his court dress into casual clothes and began farming in the farmlands, accompanied by royal families and noble officials. The 13 mu farmlands were divided into 12 rectangular pieces of land. The emperor held a plough in his right hand and a scourge in his left hand, going up and down the whole area of farmland (four times during the Ming Dynasty and three times during the Qing Dynasty), and then he went to Guangeng Platform by the west steps, before finally going down the platform via the east steps.
Address:21 Dongjing Road, Xuanwu District, Beijing (北京市宣武区东经路21号)
How to get there: bus route 2, 7, 15, 20, 110 or 120 to Tianqiao Market Station (天桥商场)
15 yuan — primary and secondary school students; Free ticket — people over 60 years old;
Wednesday admittance is free for the first 200 visitors.
Want to discover more of the China's ancient buildings? Our In-Depth Forbidden City Discovery Day Tour is your best choice!