Many Taiwanese say the southern city of Tainan has the island’s finest temples. They’re right, yet Taipei has places of worship every visitor should make an effort to see.
The most important shrine in Taipei’s oldest district, Mengjia Longshan Temple provides a fascinating glimpse of local religious beliefs and practices. Founded in 1738 and covering nearly 6,000 square metres, Longshan Temple is named after a house of worship in Fujian, the mainland Chinese province to which many Taiwanese have ancestral ties. During the early 18th century, Chinese settlers arriving in Taiwan faced many dangers, among them bandits, contagious diseases, droughts, floods and head-hunting indigenous people. Not surprisingly, they sought the protection of the folk gods now worshipped in Longshan Temple, and the comfort of Buddhist doctrines related to Guanyin, a goddess of mercy. In recent years, one of the most popular deities here has been the Old Man Under the Moon (Yue Lao), a divine matchmaker. Visitors from as far away as Singapore pray to him in the hope of finding a marriage partner.
Established in the same era, yet in artistic terms even more stunning than Longshan Temple, Dalongdong Baoan Temple is dedicated to the worship of Baosheng Dadi, a god of medicine credited with miraculous cures and the defeat of epidemics. The quality of the murals and carvings here received international recognition in 2003, when it was accorded an honorable mention at the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards. The best time to visit is springtime, when the Baosheng Cultural Festival features several weeks of firewalking, folk music, opera performances and puppet shows, as well as colourful religious parades. The festival’s precise dates are worked out by reference to the lunar calendar.
Other important shrines in Taipei include Xingtian Temple (built in the late 1960s and dedicated to Guan Gong, who was a general in his human life but is now regarded as the god of businesspeople, police officers and gang members) and Xiahai City God Temple. The latter is small yet packed with effigies of the city god (to whom people make offerings hoping for prosperity and good weather), the sea goddess Mazu and the Old Man Under the Moon.