Mount Tai, located just north of Tai’an city in East China’s Shandong province, is a mountain of historical and cultural significance, with impressive views and beautiful natural scenery. It's just 50 km (30 miles) south of Shandong's capital Jinan, so access is convenient.
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 an independent meaning of stability and peace). Mount Tai is crowned by Jade Emperor Peak (in Chinese mythology, the Jade Emperor is the most powerful god in heaven) with an altitude of 1,545 meters.
The formation of Mount Tai dates back to the Archeozoic Era, and now it is growing at the speed of 0.5 millimeters per year. It faces the Yellow Sea to the east and the Yellow River to the west, and is in the neighborhood of Confucius’ hometown, Qufu, and the City of Springs, Jinan. In 1987, Mount Tai was listed as both World Natural Heritage and World Cultural Heritage by UNESCO.
Leader of the Five Sacred Mountains
Among the Five Sacred Mountains of Taoism (the other four are Heng Mountain of Hunan Province, Hua Mountain of Shaanxi Province, Song Mountain of Henan Province and Heng Mountain of Shanxi Province), Mount Tai is only the third highest. Why it is seen as the leader of the Five Sacred Mountains? In absolute terms Mount Tai 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 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 often regarded as the first of the Five Sacred Mountains. It is associated with sunrise, birth and renewal.
For thousands of years, Mount Tai has been the sacred mountain where Emperors held the ceremony of offering sacrifices to heaven and earth to pray and say thanks for peace and prosperity. Seventy-two emperors are said to have performed mountain worship ceremonies on Mount Tai. Among them, Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty had visited Mount Tai eight times. It is the first and foremost thing for emperors to do when they ascend to the throne, because Mount Tai is seen as the symbol of the county’s peace and prosperity.
Mount Tai held a sacred position in state politics, and 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. View famous mountains in China.
Featuring antiquity, grace, serenity of seclusion, risk and wonder, Mount Tai boasts 156 peaks, among which Jade Emperor Peak, Heaven Candle Peak and Sun Viewing Peak are the most famous; 138 cliffs, the highlight of which is Fan Cliff; 72 caves; 72 grotesque stones, 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 percent 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 Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty, Tang Chinese Scholar Tree (about 2,100 years old), Welcoming Guest Pine (500 years old) and Fifth Rank Pine, which was named originally by Emperor Qin Shihuang, but was replanted about 250 years ago.
Its distinctive natural environment gives Mount Tai four natural wonders: Sunrise on 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 periods of history: the emperors who claimed they were the sons of heaven, the proud high-ranking officials, brilliant poets, Buddhists, Taoists and ordinary people too. They left numerous cultural and historic relics. There are in total 2000 historical relics. There are 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 its slopes; among which Dai Temple, Bixia Temple, Hong Mountain Gate, Nantian Gate and Daizhong Arch Gate are masterpieces among ancient Chinese buildings and the representation of China’s culture of thousands of years. Interestingly, from Dai Temple, (the place for offering sacrifice to the Emperor of Earth) located at the foot of Mount Tai, to Jade Emperor Summit, the temples built along the slopes are said to 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 of Mount Tai as “towering majesty in the east”, “supporting the sky and holding up the sun” and “as lofty as heaven”.
Jade Emperor Peak
Jade Emperor Peak (in Chinese mythology, the Jade Emperor is the most powerful god in the heaven) 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, and has long been known as the First Peak under Heaven.
It is located to the north of Bixia Temple and there lies Jade Emperor Temple, which was built in honor of the Jade Emperor of Taoism. There is a big stone in the middle of the yard in front of the temple, with the engraving: “The Summit of Mount Tai 1545 meters". The height could not be checked when it was first erected. The height of Jade Emperor Peak is now reported as 1532.7 meters. Rebuilt during the Ming Dynasty, it consists of Jade Emperor Hall, housing the bronze figure of the Jade Emperor; Sun View Pavilion, lying to the east where tourists can enjoy the sunrise; River Enjoyment Pavilion, to the west, which is a perfect place for tourists to appreciate sunset clouds and the golden belt of the Yellow River.
Bixia Temple (Azure Cloud Temple) is located south of the summit of Mount Tai, Jade Emperor Peak, east of Heavenly Street, and 6.5 kilometers away from Dai Temple. It was firstly built at the year of 1008 during the Song Dynasty and was originally called Zhaozhen Temple. It gained the present name Bixia Temple at the year of 1770 during the Qing Dynasty after a restoration.It is a grand building complex set among high mountains which consists of twelve pieces of distinctive architecture. Bixia Temple has a compact overall arrangement and the buildings are arranged along the medial axis symmetrically. When looking up at it from Heavenly Street, the temple is surrounded by clouds. If looking down on from the summit, its palaces and halls hide between the peaks. It is the one of the masterpieces among Taoist buildings and represents the high constructing level of ancient Chinese architecture.
As one of the Chinese mythologies goes, Bixia Temple was the heavenly residence of the Goddess, Yuanjun (Supreme Monarch). Goddess Yuanjun is also called the Mother of Mount Tai who might bring good luck to people especially to women and children according to Chinese mythology. She is said to be the daughter of the God of Mountain.
The temple consists of two courtyards. A gilded bronze sculpture of Goddess Yuanjun is housed in the main hall of Bixia Temple. 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 terms of scale and materials, the Bixia temple stands out from all structures at the top of Mount Tai.
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.
Mount Tai International Climbing Festival
Mount Tai international Mountaineering Festival is held in September every year since 1987. The festival and climbing competition attracts athletes and tourists from around the world, providing a development platform for strong economic and cultural construction of Tai'an, helping to build the city into an international travel destination.