Delicate reliefs on a 900-year-old pagoda in Tianning Temple. Mu Qian / China Daily
The Tianning Temple, located in the southwestern part of Beijing, is famous for its Tianning Pagoda. One of the oldest pagodas in China, it was built from around 1100 to 1119 or 1120, during the Liao Dynasty (916-1125).
The 13-story, 57.8-meter-tall, octagonal-based pagoda is made of brick and stone, yet imitates the design of wooden-constructed pagodas from the era by featuring ornamental dougong (bracket supports).
It rests on a large square platform, with the bottom portion of the pagoda taking on the shape of a sumeru (the central world-mountain in Buddhist cosmology) pedestal. The pagoda features a veranda with banisters, yet is entirely solid with no hollow inside or staircase as some pagodas feature.
Other ornamental designs include arched doorways and heavenly Buddhist guardians. Its design inspired that of later pagodas, such as the similar Pagoda of Ci-shou Temple of Beijing, built in 1576.
The structure and ornamentation have remained the same since the pagoda was built, but a major earthquake in 1976 caused the original pearl-shaped steeple of the pagoda to break off and fall. It has since been restored. The temple grounds surrounding the pagoda have also been renovated and rebuilt several times over the course of the Ming and Qing dynasties.
The architectural historian Liang Sicheng (1901-72), who was known for discovering and documenting the oldest existing wooden structures in China, lauded the Pagoda of Tianning Temple as a pristine architectural design of antiquity.
Location: Bei Binhe Road, west bank of the moat, Guang'anmenwai, Xicheng district, Beijing.
Open: 9 am-4 pm
Open: 8:30 am-5 pm