The temples visited in Taiwan were some of the most incredible structures I have ever seen. My first encounter with these lavishly decorated religious structures was on the first day of my arrival in the country. The curator of the 2014 Taiwan Ceramic Biennale, Wendy Gers and I visited the temple, in walking distance from our hotel.
The Qingshui Zushi temple is situated in the Sanxia district, on the southwest side of the Taipei region. The temple is nestled in between a diverse range of residential structures and on the edge of another famous landmark, the Sanxia Old Street (image on the left).
The temple, built in 1769 to honour the famous general Qingshui Zushi, captures your attention from the moment you spot the richly decorated and brightly coloured sculptured figurines and creatures that adorn the rooves of this lavishly carved and constructed religious structure. It is in sharp contrast to the classical red brick built commercial structures of the Sanxia Old Street.
Built entirely out of red bricks, residents and tourists shop here for all sorts of handcrafted commercial goods, including tea, soaps, ceramics and the famous indigo-dyed fabric. However the bright colours of the Temple's roof tiles and richly adorned and carved surfaces of the pillars and supporting structures and furniture is an overwhelming visual experience.
The sheer scale of the structure and attention to detail, applied in a number of layers throughout the structure, compels you to zoom in and out, turning about as you try to absorb the complex spectacle of this landmark.
How does one begin to conceptualise and visualise and ultimately assemble all the masterly crafted and excessively decorated components into a single unified built structure, a place for reflection and meditation? The exterior and interior, the ceiling and the walls, as well as the religious figures are all richly adorned, creating a elaborately opulent gaudy space, which local residents frequently visit to ensure the favour of the gods and a fruitful life. Wars and natural disasters wreaked serious damage to this structure that had to be rebuilt three times.
The second temple visited was Dalongdong Baoan, also known as the Taipei Baoan Temple. We visited the temple and the National Palace Museum during an excursion to Taipei, organised by the Museum for all the conference delegates. The religious structure was erected to worship the Emperor Baosheng Wu.
A God of medicine, he is believed to have performed numerous miracles. Considered the more famous of the two temples, it is a Class II heritage sight. As a matter of fact, the Taipei Baoan Temple, alongside the Longshan and Chinh-shui Master temples, are classified the most significant religious structures in Taiwan.
However, one’s first encounter of cultural products, albeit a religious structure, is always the more special and memorable. On close examination, observing the carvings and figurines up closely, it becomes clear why the temple is so highly regarded and one of the most visited temples in the country.
Spectacular in ever sense of the word, totally overwhelming, the bright and intense use of colour, adds to the majestic experience. The fresh flowers and bonsai trees in and around the temple, add to the already opulent and richly decorated and carved structure. The use of warm lights, and intense coulour and gilded carvings of figurines inside the structure, transports the worshipper on his transient spiritual journey – a visually spectacular and enticing encounter, like no other.