Mazu and Her Temples (part 2)
Following the article about the goddess Mazu, I am presenting a selection of five Mazu temples, all located in the same area and accessible by foot from Fuqi Hostel. I would like to thank A-zhong's (阿中) awesome blog for the wealth of information he provides. I linked to his articles so that you can admire his (much better) pictures too.
It is worth noting that all these temples, although old, underwent a lot of repairs or have been rebuilt from the ground up several times, because of change of dynasties, Japanese and Chinese occupations, bombings during the Second World War, or just normal wear and tear.
The Hai'an Temple (海安宮, literally "safe sea") maintains some secrecy around its construction date. Historians are still debating whether it would be in 1736 or 1788. Just a stone's throw from the Heping branch of Fuqi, it is located in the middle of an extremely quiet area. Hai'an filled me with a feeling of deep serenity. There wasn't a soul when I visited it, except the lady from the temple who had fallen asleep in her chair.
Hai'an is a small temple, but it conceals a great beauty. From the outside, the roof is adorned with beautiful and detailed sculptures of dragons and characters with heroic poses. Unlike some other temples which are a bit dark, the entrance leads to a spacious and bright room at the back of which Mazu sits.
The ornaments are breathtaking, the ceiling is entirely covered with low-reliefs and paintings.
Don't forget to visit the backyard, which has a more Zen atmosphere, since it is Guanyin, from Buddhism, who occupies this place.
The Jin'an Temple (金安宮, "gold and security") was originally built in 1817 but has been rebuilt countless times, the latest time being in 2000. You feel small when arriving. With its two towers on both sides of its wide golden façade, covered by large roofs, all built high up and accessible through a stone stairway, Jin'an commands respect.
Jin'an's decorations give a feeling of abundance. Inside and outside, the walls are decorated with stone low-reliefs of dragons and other mythical figures. Accompanied by her guardians, Mazu sits at the back of the main room. The walls and the ceiling surrounding her seem to crumble under the load of golden ornaments. Discreet lights make it all shine splendidly.
The back room, although a little dark, displays very beautiful wooden low-reliefs. From there, one can exit to the north wing through the right door, to a footbridge leading to the "oven" used to burn ghost money.
Chaoxing / Wenling
This temple has a complex and tumultuous history. Originally built in 1817 on Zhongyi Street, near Wudi Temple (五帝廟), it was rebuilt to its present location in 1964 as a combination of Chaoxing (朝興宮) and Wenling (溫陵廟) temples, following long disputes over land ownership. Then, in 1989, it was almost rebuilt to the original due to a serious roof crack.
This temple is located in the heart of a small residential area where people simply live their lives. A man smokes a cigarette in front of his door, children play in the street, a mother goes on a scooter with her daughter... Planted in this very local setting, this modest temple gave me a sensation of closeness to the locals. It made me feel welcome, just like Taiwanese people always do.
You will see no stairways or imposing eye-catching decorations here, but the door seems wide open. A boy surprised me by riding his bike into the temple through the main door. Mazu's guards wore hats, perhaps to protect them from the scorching heat of summer. Note that I’ve heard there is a vegetable market in the front yard in the morning.
Grand Matsu Temple
Unmissable attraction of Tainan, the Grand Matsu Temple (or Datianhou Temple, 大天后宮), one of the most famous temples dedicated to Mazu. Originally built in 1664 as the palace of Prince Zhu Shugui, it was converted into a temple in 1684. At the time, Mazu had already been worshipped for at least a hundred years, but this temple is the first to have been officially recognized by the authorities, who took the opportunity to honour Mazu with the new title of Empress of Heaven (the former being "only" Princess of Heaven).
This temple is very famous, expect many visitors. It is also one of the largest, with multiple rooms dedicated to different gods, Mazu occupying the main hall. The temple provides very interesting English documentation about the proper way to pray, ask questions to the gods and other do’s and dont’s. They even drew a map of the temple explaining the appropriate route to go through each room and worship the corresponding god.
While some temples feel a little cramped, the Grand Matsu Temple feels very airy, with large rooms and most ceilings open. The walls are decorated with beautiful murals and everything is nicely decorated, without excess.
Built in 1755, Mazulou Tianhou Temple (媽祖樓天后宮) is one of the oldest temples in Tainan. The first thing I noticed was the roof, which is loaded with beautiful sculptures. The façade is not wide, but you will be surprised how deep the inside is. Mazulou Tianhou spreads lengthwise, with even a small backyard.
In the main room, it is difficult to see Mazu's face as the altar is richly decorated and its guardians Qianliyan and Shunfend'er imposing. The abundance of wood and the care given to the ornaments give a feeling of refinement. A man intrigued me by taking a long time to adjust the position of the flowers on the altar.
The back room, smaller, is dedicated to Guanyin. From there, you can access the backyard and its surprising dragon fountain.
On the other side of the temple, the god money "oven" is topped by a funny character.
Mazulou Tianhou is known by the Taiwanese for being the filming location of the movie Zone Pro Site. And for good reasons; not only the facade is beautiful, but the neighbourhood is also lovely, the alleys are paved, there are cafés and hair salons. Also noteworthy is the beautiful golden colour of the dragon columns of the entrance, a unique detail.
And the others
This list is far from being complete. The region of Tainan has hundreds of temples dedicated to Mazu. I was planning to talk about the Kaiji Tianhou Temple (開基天后祖廟), but it is closed until 2020 because of roofing renovations. I invite you to visit other temples and let yourself be surprised and inspired by their beauty and diversity.