Situated on the east side of Yonghegong Street in the northeastern corner of the city, the Yonghe Lamasery is the largest and best-known lamasery in Beijing. The principal components are three exquisite memorial archways and five major halls, all of which stand on a north-south axis. The total area of the compound calculated from the southernmost memorial archway to the lamasery's northernmost point is 66,400 square meters.
The Yonghe Lamasery was originally built by order of Emperor Kangxi in 1694 to serve as a residence for his fourth son, Prince Yongzheng who later succeeded to the throne. The new residence was given the name the Mansion of the Beile Yin. After the death of his father, Emperor Yongzheng moved to the Forbidden City. The compound was closed to ordinary people and was renamed Yonghegong. In 1744 his successor Emperor Qianlong converted the palace into a lamasery.
The Yonghe Temple is arranged along a north-south central axis, which has a length of 480m. The main gate is at the southern end of this axis. Along the axis, there are five main halls which are separated by courtyards: the Hall of the Heavenly Kings (Tian Wang Dian or Devaraja Hall), the Hall of Harmony and Peace (Yonghegong), the Hall of Everlasting Protection (Yongyoudian), the Hall of the Wheel of the Law (Falundian), and the Pavilion of Ten Thousand Happinesses (Wanfuge).
The Hall of the Heavenly Kings is the southernmost of the main halls, it served originally as the main entrance to the monastery. In the center of the hall stands a statue of the Maitreya Buddha, along the walls statues of the four Heavenly Kings are arranged.
The Hall of Harmony and Peace is the main building of the temple. It houses three bronze statues of the Buddhas of the Three Ages, the statue of the Gautama Buddha (Buddha of the Present) is in the center, it is flanked by the statue of Kasyapa Matanga (Buddha of the Past, right) and the Maitreya Buddha (Buddha of the Future, left). Along the sides of the hall, the statues of the 18 Arhats are placed. A mural in the hall shows the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara.
The Hall of Everlasting Protection was Emperor Yongzheng's living quarters as a prince and the place where his coffin was placed after his death. Today, a statue of the Bhaisajya-guru (healing Buddha) stands in this hall.
The Hall of the Wheel of the Law functions as a place for reading scriptures and conducting religious ceremonies. It contains a large statue of Je Tsongkhapa, founder of the Geluk School. The hall also contains the Five-Hundred-Arhat-Hill, a carving make of red sandalwood with statues of the arhats made from five different metals (gold, silver, copper, iron, and tin).
The Pavilion of Ten Thousand Happinesses contains an 18m tall statue of the Maitreya Buddha carved from a single piece of White Sandalwood. The statue is one of three artworks in the Temple which were included in the Guinness Book of Records in 1993.
Several renovations have been carried out since 1949. The temple has taken on a new look and reopened to the public in 1981. It is now not only a functional lama temple, but also a tourist attraction.