Diary of a Rambling Antiquarian

Monday, 18 September 2017

Haotian Pagoda

I arrived in Beijing this morning for a three-week trip, mostly to Hohhot in Inner Mongolia where I will be attending meetings of SC2 and WG2 next week. I have two days in Beijing, and today I want to visit some pagodas. There are several historic pagodas of interest to me in the Fangshan District in the south of Beijing Municipality, but most of them are difficult to get to without a car, so I decide to visit the Liao dynasty Haotian Pagoda 昊天塔 as it is within walking distance of the Liangxiang University Town West 良乡大学城西 subway station on the Fangshan line.

It takes about 45 minutes to get from central Beijing to Liangxiang University Town West, and then I spend 45 minutes trying to get to the pagoda following a shortcut Google Maps has suggested to me. But although every now and then I can see the pagoda in the distance, I keep hitting dead ends and diversions, and finally I return defeated to the subway station. However, from the subway station I simply follow the main road north, and after quarter of an hour I arrive at the ominously derelict entrance to Haotian Park. The park gates are firmly closed and padlocked, and signs pasted to the entrance proclaim that the park is closed for renovations to the pagoda. I am reminded of my last visit to Beijing in 2013 when two out of three pagodas I visited were closed for repairs. I hope this is not an omen for what is to come.

Approach to Haotian Pagoda from the South

{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}

The pagoda is a couple of hundred metres away, at the top of some steps at the end of a broad concrete avenue leading from the entrance. I am about to try to take a distant shot of the pagoda through the bars of the gate when I see three ladies walking down the avenue from the direction of the pagoda. As they get nearer to the entrance they look to me like tourists, so I shout out to them whether it is possible to enter the park. They say it is, and awake the gatekeeper from slumber in the gatehouse I had not clearly noticed before. I ask the gatekeeper nicely if it would be possible to go a little closer to the pagoda to take a picture. He reluctantly agrees, and opens the gate to let me in, telling me to hurry and take my picture and then come straight back. I see him watching me anxiously as I hurry down the avenue to take my pictures.

The pagoda is an octagonal brick pagoda of five stories, 36 metres in height, which was built during the Liao dynasty (907–1125) to replace an earlier pagoda erected during the Sui dynasty (581–618). The pagoda is hollow, with a staircase allowing access to the top, but I am not going to be able to climb up it today.

Haotian Pagoda

{BabelStone CC BY-SA 3.0}

I go as far as the top of the steps, but I do not want to overstay my welcome, so after I have taken a few pictures I return back to the entrance, and the gatekeeper sees me out, eagerly locking the gate behind me. In the end it was not a wasted trip, and I return back to my hotel in central Beijing satisfied, but eager for more pagoda adventures.


Beijing | Liao dynasty | Pagodas

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