Mount Tai, located just north of Tai’an city of east China’s Shangdong province, is a mountain of historical and cultural significance. The word “tai” in Chinese means stability and peace and the name Tai'an is attributed to the saying "If Mount Tai is stable, so is the entire country" (both characters of Tai'an have independent meaning "peace"). It crowns at Jade Emperor Peak (in Chinese mythology, Jade Emperor is the most powerful god in the heaven) with the altitude of 1545 meters.
The formation of Mount Tai can date back to Archeozoic Era and now it is growing at the speed of 0.5 millimeter per year. It facing Yellow Sea at east and Yellow River at west, neighboring Confucius’ hometown Qufu and the city of Springs-Jinan, is the sprite symbol of Chinese people and the miniature of Chinese culture. In 1987, Mountain Tai was listed as both a world natural and cultural heritage by UNESCO.
Leader of Five Sacred Mountains
Mount Tai is only the 16th highest mountain in China, and of the five sacred mountains (the other four are Mountain Hengshan of Hunan province, Mountain Huanshan of Shaanxi province, Mountain Songshan of Henan province and Mountain Hengshan of Shanxi province), it is only the third highest. Why it is seemed as the leader of the Five Sacred Mountains? In absolute terms it can not be considered as the highest of China’s mountains, but because it is close to the sea and rivers and rises abruptly from the relatively low rolling hills and Qilu plains, its relative height is quite impressive, with an altitude difference of 1395 meters within the nine kilometers. Moreover, in Chinese culture, east is regarded as a sacred direction since it is where the sun and the moon rise. Therefore Mount Tai is one of the "Five Sacred Mountains". It is associated with sunrise, birth, and renewal, and is often regarded the foremost of the five.
For thousands of years, Mount Tai is the sacred mountain where Emperors hold ceremony of offering sacrifices to heaven and earth to pray and say thanks for peace and prosperity. Severn-two emperors are said to have performed mountain worship ceremonies on Mount Tai. Amount them Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty had visited Mount Tai for eight times. It is the first and foremost thing for emperors to do when they ascend to the throne, because Mount Tai is seemed as the symbol of the county’s peace and prosperity.
Mount Tai held a sacred poison in state politics, also enjoyed a high status in the world of Taoism and Buddhism. The temples on its slopes have been a destination for pilgrims for 3,000 years.
Featured antiquity, grace, serenity of seclusion, risk and wonder, Mount Tai boast 156 peaks, among which the Jade Emperor, Heaven Candle Peak and Sun Viewing Peak are the most famous; 138 cliffs highlighting at the Fan Cliff, 72 caves, 72 grotesque stone among which the Immortal Bridge is the most distinctive; 130 streams, 64 waterfalls including the renowned Dragon Pool Waterfall, Yunqiao Waterfall and Santan Waterfall and 72 springs. It lies in the zone of oriental deciduous forest with about 80% of its area is covered with vegetation. The flora is known to comprise almost 1,000 species. Some of the trees in the area are very old and have cultural significance, such as the Han Dynasty Cypresses, which were planted by the Emperor Wu of Han Dynasty, the Tang Chinese Scholar tree (about 2,100 years old), the Welcoming-Guest Pine (500 years old) and the Fifth-Rank Pine, which was named originally by the Emperor Qin Shi Huang, but was replanted about 250 years ago.
Distinctive natural environment earns Mount Tai four natural wonders: Sunrise on Mount Tai (see the Sunrise Timetable of Mount Tai), Rime and Glaze Scenery, “Buddha’s Light” on Mount Tai and the Sea of Clouds.
Cultural and Historic Relics
The majesty of Mount Tai has profoundly moved many visitors at all ages, the emperors who claimed they were the son of heaven, the proud high-ranking officials, brilliant poets Buddhists, Taoists and ordinary people too, leaving numerous cultural and historic relics. There are totally 2000 historical relics, 58 ancient building complexes which are mainly in Ming and Qing Dynasty style and 29 are well-preserved. They built at the foot of Mount Tai and along the slopes of it among which Dai Temple, Bixia Temple, Hong Mountain Gate, Nantian Gate and Daizhong Arch Gate are the masterpieces among ancient Chinese buildings and the miniature of China’s culture of thousands years. Interestingly, from Dai Temple (place to hold a ceremony for offering sacrifice to the emperor of earth) located at the foot of Mount Tai to the Jade Emperor Summit (in Chinese mythology, Jade Emperor is the most powerful god in the heaven), the temples built along the slopes compose a ten-kilometer road from the nether world to heaven.
Besides, there are countless inscriptions on the cliffs and steles from historic celebrities, using such laudatory descriptions as “towering majesty in the east,” “supporting the sky and holding up the sun” and “as lofty as heaven”.
Dai Temple, located at the south foot of Mount Tai, is the largest and best-preserved ancient building complex in the scenic area of Mount Tai. It was firstly built during Han Dynasty and greatly expanded during Tang, Song Dynasties. It is a Taoist temple where emperors during the past dynasties offered sacrifice to the God of Earth to pray and say thanks for peace and prosperity. Dai Temple is in the palace style of ancient Chinese emperors, to compose over 150 ancient buildings in many kinds. It together with the Forbidden City in Beijing, “Three Kong” (Confucius Temple, the Cemetery of Confucius and Kong Family’s Mansion) in Qufu of Shangdong province and Chengde Summer Palace of Hebei province are considered as the Four Representative Ancient Chinese Buildings.
Covering a totally area of 96500 square meters, Dai Temple has gates at its four sides. The main building of Dai Temple is Tiankuang Hall (Hall of Heavenly Blessing) which was during the year 1009 in the North Song Dynasty enshrines the God of Mount Tai. It is 48.7 meters from east to west, 19.8 meters in width and 22.3 meters high. It is a double-roofed palace-like wooden structure with carved beams, painted pillars, and upturned eaves, covered by yellow glazed-tiles. On its east, west and north walls of the interior is a 3.3-meter-tall and 62-meter-long mural called God of Mount Tai Returning to the Palace. The mural portrays the scenes of the returning tour of the God of Mount Tai from a hunting excursion. There are totally over 630 figures appearing in the mural, together with various kinds of rare birds and beasts, flora, mountains and palaces. Every figure has distinctive postures and facial expressions.
There are totally 151 steles and stone inscriptions from the past dynasties in the Dai Temple, which wins Dai Temple a title of Stele Forest. Among them the rescript inscription of the second emperor of Qin Dynasty was engraved during 209 BC by Li Si, the renowned official and calligrapher of Qin Dynasty. It is one of the oldest inscriptions preserved in China. Besides, the famous steles include Hengfang Stele (168AD) and Zhangqian Stele (186 AD) of East Han Dynasty and Madam Shun Stele (272AD) of West Jin Dynasty.
Jade Emperor Peak
Jade Emperor Peak
Jade Emperor Peak (in Chinese mythology, Jade Emperor is the most powerful god in the heaven), towering 1545 meters above sea level, is the summit of Mount Tai. The city of Tai’an, at the foot of Mount Tai, is 153 meters above sea level, while the Jade Emperor is 1545 meters above sea level, with the sharp altitude difference of 1392 meters offering tourists a breathtaking bird’s eye view of the entire area. It is also called Taiping Peak (Peace Peak) and Celestial Pillar Peak, which is long known as the First Peak under Heaven.
It is located at the north of Bixia Temple and lies Jade Emperor Temple which is built in the honor of Jade Emperor of Taoism. There is a big stone in the middle of the yard in front of the temple, engraving with “The Summit of Mount Tai 1545 meters". It can not be checked when it was firstly built. Rebuilt during Ming Dynasty, it consists of Jade Emperor Hall where housing the bronze figure of Jade Emperor, Sun-viewing Pavilion lying to the east where tourists can enjoy the sunrise; River-enjoy Pavilion to the west which is a perfect place for tourists to appreciate sunset clouds and the golden belt of Yellow River.
The Bixia Temple (Azure Cloud) Temple is a complex of grand buildings set among high mountains, located on the top of Mount Tai. When looked up at from the Heavenly Street, the temple is surrounded by clouds, like the heavenly residence of the Yuanjun (supreme Monarch) Goddess; if looked down on from the summit, its palaces and halls hide between the peaks.
The temple consists of two courtyards. The main hall has five bays, nine ridges, a gable and hip roof and 360 runs of curved titles, symbolizing the number of days in a year by the lunar calendar. Because of the fog and rain on the high mountain, wood is vulnerable to decay, and the tiles can be easily wrecked by the strong wind, therefore the tiles and other parts of the temple were made of iron. In the early period of Qing Dynasty, the iron tiles were replaced with bronze tiles. In the front courtyard of the main hall stands the Fragrance Pavilion dating from the Ming Dynasty. In the late period of Ming Dynasty, Li Zicheng’s peasant rebellion army, seeing the gilded bronze pavilion, thought it was real gold and made off with it to the bottom of the mountain, When they discovered is was bronze, they scraped off the gold and discarded the pavilion at the Lingying Palace of the Lower Temple of Yuanjun. Later, it was moved to the Dai Temple.
In terms of scale and materials, the Bixia temple stands out from all structures at the top of Mount Tai.