Sacred Places in Beijing

Fayuan temple

Fayuan Si 法源寺

– City’s oldest Buddhist temple ;

– holds the most renowned Buddhist Academy in China and an important Buddhist Library ;

– contains a large number of cultural relics from the Ming dynasty (1368 – 1644).


The Fayuan Temple, originally named the Minzhong Temple, was first built in 645 during the Tang dynasty by Li Shimin (Emperor Taizong). It was later rebuilt in the Zhengtong era (1436–1449) of the Ming dynasty. Emperor Taizong founded the temple to commemorate his soldiers who died in his campaign against Goguryeo.

Fayuan Temple was originally built to mourn the dead soldiers by Emperor Taizong (598-649) of the Tang Dynasty (618-907). When finished in 696, Empress Wu Zetian (624-705) gave it the name Minzhong Temple, which means a temple to mourn the late loyal people. However, due to flood, earthquake, war and other damages, the temple has been destroyed, rebuilt, and renamed several times. It was not until the Emperor Yongzheng’s throne in the Qing Dynasty (1636-1912) that it was greatly repaired and then renamed as Fayuan Temple, which has been retained to the present day. In fact, since the temple was first built to recall the dead soldiers, there were several loyal people who were associated to it in different dynasties. During the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), Xie Fangde (1226-1289), official of the fallen former Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), starved himself to death in the temple as he would not surrender to the new rulers. In the late Qing Dynasty, after the leaders of the Reform Movement in 1898 had been killed, their coffins were stored in this temple for some time. For more than a thousand years, the temple has witnessed the change of history.


The Fayuan Temple is situated in the southwest quarter of central Beijing. When arriving at the temple, the first thing that catches our eyes before enter, is a beautiful tree-lined walk ending to a red wall. Tap on the map above to open the location on Google Map. 


The Fayuan Temple covers an area of 6,700 sqm. Facing south, it is built in an axial symmetry pattern. There are six courtyards inside from south to north.

The main buildings are all concentrated in the north-south axis line, successively the main gate, the Hall of Heavenly King, the Hall of the Great Buddha, the Hall to Mourn the Loyal, the Pilu Hall, the Great Mercy Hall, and the Pavilion of Buddhist Sutras.

Bell & drum towers

Behind the main gate is the first courtyard where stands the Hall of Heavenly King. In front of the hall, there are several monuments, with Bell Tower and Drum Tower on both sides. 

Engraved stones

In the second courtyard, six stone steles of the Ming and Qing dynasties are erected in front of the hall, which record the temple’s construction process. The turtle sybolises the longevity. 

Bronze and stones sculptures

Windows & doors


Temples roofs are curved because Buddhists believed that this helped ward off evil spirits. The roof arch comes from the intricately fitted rafters, which were jointed together.


Paints has been renovated and we can see well detailed patterns. I will dedicate later a post related to the symbolic values of the colours in the Chinese Art.  For more information about the roofs, I invite you to read the page called “Key elements (architecture)”, in the same submenu than this article. 

I had an authorization to shoot inside of the temple. I was allowed to shoot the beams and the ceilings but not the Buddhist statues. To capture accurate details, I used my tripod and shoot with low ISO and the ideal aperture.

Meetings with student monks

Sometimes life bring you to unexpected and wonderful encounters. I was in this temple, the time just flew by and I found myself shooting alone here. The visit time was over. A light coming from a recent buidling, on the side’s temple, catched my curiosity and I saw a monk working out with weight. I came inside, and used all the chinese I had to talk with him. He explained me he cames from Henan and was for a year in Shaolin Monastery where he learnt his training program. Later his classmates arrived and I got a dinner in the monastery with them, a great opportunity to talk more. Atmoshpere was joyful in a spirit of mutual curiosity. They were in their first year of studies for a total of 4 years. Admission is very selective, indeed the Fayuan temple is famous to study the buddhism and hold the wider library of China in this field. Students come from the whole country. They bring me to their classroom, and introdcued me their learning classes.

Since this first visit, I’ve been couple of more times in this temple, I got more photos and went shooting around with a monk who is passionated and talented about creating videos.

Those meetings left me a good memory of this place and I will go back there as soon as I can.

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Aesthete between China and France.

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