Exploring Temple Square

This is sacred ground for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), also known as Mormons. The 10-acre Temple Square is enclosed by 15-foot walls, with a gate in the center of each. In addition to the church buildings, the square houses lovely gardens and statuary, and the North and South visitor centers, which have exhibits on the church's history and beliefs, interactive videos, and films. Also in the North Center is an 11-foot-tall replica of the awe-inspiring sculpture Christus, a statue of Christ by the Danish artist Bertel Thorvaldsen.

The majestic Temple is used only for the LDS church's most sacred ceremonies and is not open to the public. Brigham Young chose the site within 4 days of entering the valley, and work began on the six-spired granite structure in 1853. It took 40 years to complete.

The oval Tabernacle seats about 3,500 people and has one of the West's largest unsupported domed roofs. The Tabernacle has fantastic acoustics and has served as the city's cultural center for over a century.

On Thursday evenings at 8pm, you can listen to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir rehearse (except when they're on tour; call tel. 801/240-4150 or visit www.mormontabernaclechoir.org for schedules), and on Sunday mornings you can attend their broadcast from 9:30 to 10am (you must be seated by 9:15am). The choir, composed entirely of volunteers, was formed shortly after the first pioneers arrived; many husband-and-wife members and families participate, sometimes over several generations. The Tabernacle organ has been rebuilt a number of times, and has grown from the original 2,000 pipes and two manuals to 11,623 pipes and five manuals. The organ is said to have an instantly recognizable signature sound. Half-hour organ recitals take place year-round, Monday through Saturday at noon, Sunday at 2pm. At peak times, an additional 2pm recital is often scheduled Monday through Saturday. Admission to these performances is free.

The Gothic-style Assembly Hall was constructed in 1880 from leftover granite from the Temple and has lovely soaring white spires and stained-glass windows. Free concerts are offered here most weekends; inquire at a visitor center for schedules. Two monuments stand in front of the Assembly Hall: One depicts a pioneer family arriving with a handcart filled with their belongings, and the second commemorates the salvaging of the first crops from a plague of crickets (sea gulls swooped down and ate the insects).

Guided tours of the square, lasting approximately 30 minutes and available in 30 languages, leave every few minutes from any of the gates; personnel in the visitor center can direct you. Tour guides provide a general history of the church (touching upon the church's doctrine) and take you around the square, briefly explaining what you are seeing. The Tabernacle tour includes a fascinating demonstration of the incredible acoustics: the group is ushered to the last row of seats while someone stands at the podium and drops three pins -- the sound is as clear as a bell!

The square is bounded by Main Street on the east and North, South, and West Temple streets. The LDS Church recently purchased the stretch of Main Street on the square's east side, closed it to traffic, and transformed it into a lovely park with trees, flowers, walking paths, and benches; a large reflecting pool dominates the area, displaying a mirror image of the magnificent Temple.

Across North Temple Street from the Square is the Conference Center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (tel. 801/240-0075). This huge complex has a main auditorium for worship services, meetings, and cultural events that seats 21,000 people.

When the church leaders realized there would be 4 acres of roof over the conference center, they decided to do something special. And boy did they -- the designers have created a wild landscape reminiscent of a Utah mountain on top of the roof. Among the flora are bristlecone pines, aspens, Serbian spruces, 21 native meadow grasses, and 300 varieties of Utah wildflowers. An immense fountain flows in four directions and eventually into the Conference Center spire, from which it streams south to cascade 67 feet down the south face of the building. The roof is a serene oasis in the middle of a busy modern city -- people sit or stroll and enjoy the views of the city set against the Wasatch Mountains.

The Conference Center is usually open Monday through Saturday from 9am to 9pm; free guided tours of the complex are offered approximately every 15 minutes except during special events.

Temple Square is open daily from 7:30am to 10pm. Visitor centers are open daily from 9am to 9pm; tours are given between 9:15am and 8:15pm. Hours are reduced on Christmas. Call tel. 800/537-9703 or 801/240-1245 for more information, or browse www.visittemplesquare.com or www.lds.org. The Trax train stops right out front, at the Temple Square station. Allow 1 to 3 hours to tour the square.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.