The Longshan Temple

IT WAS an ideal time to arrive in Taipei, before lunch, especially for a first time visitor. There was a whole afternoon ahead to explore the first entries on the Taiwan adventure list.

Before noon, I was at the lobby of the W Taipei. Since it was too early for check-in, I dropped my luggage at the concierge, asked for a copy of the city map and suggestions from the Whatever, Whenever service, and off I went to take the metro. Conveniently, the Taipei City Hall station is just below the hotel.

Eight stops away from the hotel on the same blue line is Longshan Temple, with the metro station named after it. It was first on the list. From there, I could weave my way through the other attractions, time permitting, getting closer back to home base.

In Taipei’s oldest district, Wanhua, stands the "Lungshan Temple of Manka", one of the largest and oldest temples in Taiwan built in 1738 by the Fujian immigrants during Quing rule, when Taiwan was made part of the Fujian Province. The branch temple takes its name from the 7th century-erected temple in the Fujian province.

For the Chinese settlers, the Longshan Temple is a house of worship and a place to gather.

From afar, it may seem to look like just another Chinese temple, a pre-dominantly red edifice with tiled roofing and corners sweeping to the sky. But as you come closer, the intricate detailing starts to unravel, inch by magnificent inch on the roof, on the ceiling, posts and walls.

Perhaps the astonishing details that dazzled me most were the diorama detailing on the roof which I reckon is relating a story; and the temple’s pillars at the main hall’s exterior and in front of the incense burner, and at the hall fronting it. The posts are wrapped in three-dimensional elements.

Yes, the design of the temple is impressive, truly a unique and exciting representation of Taiwan’s folk faith. It’s not surprising why it has become one of city’s top religious sites to visit.

But believe it or not, everything about Longshan is not entirely ancient. The buildings constructed in 1738 are no longer the original structures. Through the years, the temple had its unfortunate share of beatings caused by nature and man.

Earthquakes, typhoons, and fires may have damaged the temple, but during the Japanese rule it was rebuilt, commencing in 1919 and completed in 1924, with residents of Taipei making effort to renovate and improve the temple and the grounds.

During World War II, major damage fell upon Longshan when American bombers, during the Raid on Taipei, hit the place due to an accusation that the Japanese used the temple as a hiding place for armaments. Rebuilding commenced shortly after the war.

It was not until I read up on Longshan Temple history when I found out about its past. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have known that the place of worship was a 20th century manifestation of its ancient forerunner. The temple did look old to me.

To get there: Get off at the Longshan Temple Station on the MRT Blue Line. Take Exit 1.

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