A pilgrimage to the old Tainan, capital of early Taiwan

It’s better for me to focus on the must-see attractions in the old section of downtown Tainan so that people new to the city will know where to start with and not miss the finest of the city has to offer.

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 It’s better for me to focus on the must-see attractions in the old section of downtown Tainan so that people new to the city will know where to start

It’s better for me to focus on the must-see attractions in the old section of downtown Tainan so that people new to the city will know where to start (By Taiwan News)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News)--I feel obliged to write about Tainan, where I grew up, not because it is my home city but because there are so many interesting places to talk about in the oldest city on the island. It’s better for me to focus on the must-see attractions in the old section of downtown Tainan so that people new to the city will know where to start with and not miss the finest the city has to offer.

I can tell readers right off the top of my head that you must not miss four of the city’s many Grade 1 national monuments-- Tainan Confucius Temple (台南孔子廟), Guan Gong Temple (祀典武廟), Tainan Grand Matsu Temple (大天后宮), and Ch’ih K’an Lou (赤崁樓, Fort Provintia). The writing will introduce readers to the four monuments in that order as well as a few other attractions along the circle route.

I skipped Anping, a district rich in historic heritage, because I had written about the area in another article early this year.

A T-Bike station near Tainan Railway Station. 

As the ancient section of Tainan is small, I find riding a bike is the best way to explore the area. There are many public bike (T-Bike) rental stations around the city. But first, don’t forget to register your EasyCard on one of the kiosks at the stations before you are allowed to rent a T-Bike. There is one bike station beside the 7-11 convenience store in front of Tainan Railway Station.

Start your Tainan city tour by riding down the Zhongshan Road (中山路) in front of the train station to Tang De-Jhang Memorial Park (湯德章紀念公園), where seven streets converge. The park is a good place for visitors to remember while touring Tainan.

On their way to visit the Tainan Confucius Temple, tourists might as well visit the National Museum of Taiwan Literature (NMTL), which is located on the edge of the circular Tang De-Jhang Memorial Park. The museum first opened its door to the public in 2003. The museum building, which reflects contemporary European styling, has a distinguished history tracing back to 1916, when it was built to house the Tainan Prefectural Government during the Japanese colonial period. 

The National Museum of Taiwan Literature

The Tainan Confucius Temple and the NMTL are located next to each other and only separated by a narrow street. Located on Nanmen Road (南門路), the Tainan Confucius Temple, known as the first scholarly academy of Taiwan, is also the first Confucius temple to have been built on the island.

The complex was built in 1665 by Koxinga’s (鄭成功) son Cheng Jing (鄭經) at the recommendation of his military counselor Chen Yonghwa (陳永華), who believed that the long-term prosperity of the Cheng kingdom depended on the service of wise officials. Therefore, the complex was established as a center for Confucian studies and classical education.

Tainan Confucius Temple

Tainan Confucius Temple is a Minnan (South China) style courtyard structure with the concept of “left school and right temple.”

Across from the Confucius Temple is Pangong Stone Archway, which was erected in 1777 as the main entrance to the temple. The street behind the archway flanked by trees is popular among visitors looking for snacks and refreshments.

Pangong Stone Archway

Since visitors are here, they might as well visit the original Tainan District Court.

Go down Nanmen Road and turn right at the intersection with Fuqian Road (府前路). After going down a block on Fuqian Road, visitors should be able to see the original Tainan District Court, which is a striking magnificent Baroque building, on the left. The old courthouse was completed and inaugurated in 1914. The building, the Presidential Office Building and the National Taiwan Museum in Taipei are listed as Taiwan’s top three classical buildings from the Japanese colonial period.

The original Tainan District Court

Inside of the original Tainan District Court

To visit the next Grade 1 national monument, continue riding down Fuqian Road for a very short distance and turn right to Sec. 2 of Yongfu Road (永福路). On the way to the Guan Kong Temple, visitors are recommended to visit Chendejyu Shrine (陳德聚堂, Chen’s Ancestral Shrine) on Lane 152 of Yong Fu Rd. Visitors should be able to see the shrine on the right shortly after turning into the lane.

The shrine is the residence of General Chen, who followed Koxinga of the Ming dynasty to expel the Dutch and to develop Taiwan. General Chen died n 1674; his residence was turned into an ancestral shrine.

Chendejyu Shrine

Inside of Chendejyu Shrine

The octagon windows with the curling grass pattern and the character of Chen in the middle were made when Taiwan was under Japanese rule. They are characteristic of the shrine.

Continue on Yongfu Road until the end of the street where it connects with Minzu Road (民族路). Guan Gong Temple is located where the two streets meet.

With an original construction date tracking back to 1665, Guan Gong Temple can claim to be the oldest temple in Taiwan dedicated to the deity Guan Gong, the god of justice, courage and loyalty. Today the temple complex houses a few statues of other gods in addition to Guan Gong, including the God of Matchmaking.

Guan Gong Temple

Featuring attributes such as the long, red-brown “horseback” wall and the five distinct roofs, including the most ornate “swallow’s tail” style roof, the temple is presented in the traditional architectural style of southeastern Chinese provinces including Fujian, the origin of the first waves of Chinese immigrants to Taiwan in the 17th century.

When you come out of the temple, go down Lane 227 of Yongfu Road on one side of the small square in front of Guan Gong Temple. About 100 meters down the lane is Tainan Grand Matsu Temple.

The temple was rebuilt from the old residence of King Ning Jing, one of Ming dynasty’s last royal family members who fled to Taiwan, and the temple was the only official temple dedicated to the worship of Matsu in Taiwan during the Qing dynasty. In the old days, local government officials attended a worshipping ceremony two times a year, one in spring and the other in autumn, on behalf of the imperial government. Therefore, the temple has the most numerous tablets given by Qing emperors, five at least according to the temple’s record, hanging inside the temple today.

Tainan Grand Matsu Temple

After paying tribute to Matsu, come back to the Guan Gong Temple and cross Minzu Road to visit one of the most famous historic landmarks on the island-- Ch’ih K’an Lou.        

Ch’ih K’an Lou was one of the two forts built by the Dutch during their occupation of Taiwan (1624 to 1662). In 1661, the Chinese patriot of Koxinga regained Taiwan from the Dutch. He first captured fort Provintia and used it as his residence. Later, when Fort Zeelandia in Anping fell to him, he moved his residence there and used this fort as his governmental office. The brief history is enough to say about the significance of this fort in the modern history of Taiwan.

Ch’ih K’an Lou

In fact the three historic sites almost connect to each other, and for sure the area has the highest density of Grade 1 national monuments in Taiwan.  

After visiting all the historic heavyweights, visitors can go up Minzu Road and turn into Lane 173 to find Wu’s Garden as the final stop for the trip.

Wu’s Garden

In 1829, Tainan businessman Wu Shan-hsin created a classical Chinese garden containing a pool, cave, pavilion and rockery. In the early Japanese colonial period, Wu’s Garden rivaled Lin’s Garden in Banciao, Northern Kou’s Garden in Hsinchu, and Lai’s Garden in Taichung—together they were known as “the Four Great Famous Gardens of Taiwan.” However, Wu’s Garden is said to have shrunken to about only one tenth of its original size due to development. Even so, what’s left there today still bears testimony to its past splendor.   

Now you can call it a day as you have completed a pilgrimage of the old Tainan and seen the best the city has to offer.