At the northeast corner of Beijing City, the traveler will find an elegant and ancient temple known as the Yonghe Lamasery (Yonghegong), which is the largest and most perfectly preserved lamasery in present China.
The total area of the compound calculated from the southernmost memorial archway to the lamasery's northernmost point is 66,400 square meters.
It was a palatial residence built in 1694 by Qing Emperor Kangxi for his fourth son, Prince Yongzheng who later succeeded to the throne.
This magnificent temple consists of five main buildings lying on the north-south axis, with annex halls standing on both sides. The temple is listed by the Chinese Government as one of the important historical monuments under special preservation. After the death of his father, Emperor Yongzheng moved to the Forbidden City.
The compound was closed to ordinary people and was renamed yonghegong (the Palace of Harmony). Green roof tiles were replaced by yellow ones to suit a monarch's home. In 1744 his successor Emperor Qianlong converted the palace into a lamasery.
The principal building in the rearmost courtyard and tallest building in the lamasery is the three-story Hall of Infinite Happiness (Wangfuge), also called the Hall of Great Buddha (Dafolou). Flanking it on both sides are two two-story pavilions-the Eternal Health Pavilion (Yongkangge) and the Perpetual Tranquility Pavilion (Yanningge), both connected to the central hall by overhead bridges.
A huge statue of the Tathagata Buddha (Rulaifo) stands in the center of the hall. Made from the trunk of a single sandalwood tree, the standing statue is 26 meters in height (eight meters below the ground floor and 18 meters above) and eight meters in diameter.
It is said that when this statue was first installed it was fitted with a yellow monk's robe made of more than 1,800 meters of satin.
The lamaseries house a treasury of Buddhist art. To mention a few of the most interesting items: examples of the calligraphy of Qing emperors written on scrolls and inscribed on stelae, bronze lions and incense burners, sculptured images of gods, demons and Buddhas and Tibetan-style murals.
Several renovations have been carried out since 1949.The temple has taken on a new look and was reopened to the public in 1981.It is now not only a functional lama temple, but also a tourist attraction.
Of interest to visitors in the Lama Temple are the 18-metre-high Maitreya statue engraved from a 26-metre-long white sandal-wood log, "the Five hundred Arhats Hill" made of gold, silver, copper, iron and tin, and the niche carved out of nanmu (this kind of Phoebe nanmu can give off a unusual scent reputed to repel mosquitoes in summer). These three objects are accredited as the three matchless masterpieces in the Lama Temple.
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