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Tainan is the original capital city of Taiwan, before it was moved to Taipei. Today, it is known for its historical sights and night markets – it is even considered by many to be the country’s food capital.
Tainan’s temples feature prominently on my list of things to do in Tainan. In fact, the city has more temples than any other in Taiwan. They are generally older than the temples in Taipei and other parts of the country, and several of them are the first of their kind in the country. Visiting these temples is part of the everyday life of locals in Tainan City.
While the city boasts hundreds, there is a traditional list of the 15 most important temples in Tainan, called “七寺八廟”, or “7 Buddhist temples and 8 Taoist temples” (you can see the list here). Some but not all are featured in my below article, while I include others that are left an impression on me but are not found on the traditional list.
In the first section below you’ll find the top temples in the Tainan city center. In the second section, we’ll move over to historic Anping and Annan District for two of the city’s best, before a few others further afield.
I’ve personally visited all of these temples except for two at the end, so for each one I’ll briefly introduce its history (keeping in mind that temples in Taiwan are often renovated, expanded, and/or rebuilt numerous times after their original founding date) and main gods worshipped before describing what made each temple stand out for me. The temples are free to enter unless otherwise stated.
Temple’s in Tainan’s City Center
The following Tainan temples are located primarily in West Central District (中西區), which is considered the city center of modern-day Tainan. A little spread out, they are all reachable on foot from the Tainan Train Station, even in a single, long day (I’ve done it!), but riding a bike will definitely make your temple hopping easier.
Tainan Confucius Temple
Tainan’s Confucius Temple (臺南孔廟 or “Tainan Kong Miao”) gets the top spot as it is probably the most famous of all of Tainan City’s temples.
The Confucius Temple stands out for being different than the usual Buddhist/Taoist temples in Taiwan (Confucius temples are generally simpler and less “busy” in design, with no images of gods), for being the first Confucius temple in the county, and for being Taiwan’s first education institution.
The temple was first constructed in 1665 by Zheng Jing, the son of Koxinga, the most prominent figure in Tainan and early Taiwan’s history.
Koxinga was a half-Chinese, half Japanese pirate and Ming Dynasty loyalist who expelled the Dutch from Taiwan and established the Kingdom of Tungning at Tainan.
Today, the Tainan Confucius Temple occupies a walled-compound, with its main entrance (Da Cheng Gate or 大成門) facing the Kongmiao Shopping District to the east. The first building you’ll encounter after entering is Minglun Hall (明倫堂), considered Taiwan’s first school, which is now decorated with beautiful calligraphy.
At the back, Wenchangge (文昌閣) is a 3-storey pagoda-like shrine for the God of Literature, while Chongsheng Shrine (崇聖祠) is dedicated to Confucius’ ancestors. In the field in front, there is a towering, 100-year-old rain tree – the base of the trunk has a circumference of 4.3 meters!
The main hall is called Dacheng Hall (大成殿). The shrine at its center contains numerous plaques added by various presidents of Taiwan (see picture below), while its side rooms contain rows of red Confucian spirit tablets and some other ceremonial artifacts.
The grounds are free to enter, but there’s an NT 40 fee (30 for students or seniors) to enter Dacheng Hall.
Yanping Junwang Temple (Koxinga Shrine)
Situated in a lovely park, Yanping Junwang Temple was also built by Zheng Jing, to commemorate his father.
The temple has changed and been rebuilt in different styles several times since first being built in 1662, including when it became Kaishan Wang Temple (開山王廟), Kaizan (Kaishan) Shinto Shrine (開山神社) in the Japanese Colonial Period, and finally the present structure. The names come from Kaishan King (開山王) and Yanping Prince (延平郡王), other names for Koxinga.
The current temple was built in the Northern Chinese style in the 1960s and has striking turquoise roof tiles. There are informational panels covering early Tainan and the temple’s rich history. There’s also a simple shrine at the back of the temple, behind the main shrine, dedicated to Koxinga’s Japanese mother, Tagawa Matsu.
Standing in front of the temple is a traditional Japanese stone torii (gate), labelled Shinto Shrine (開山神社) on GoogleMaps. Behind the temple, at the northern tip of the park, there’s a towering statue of Koxinga riding a horse.
The Koxinga Museum (鄭成功文物館) is also in the park, but as of 2022 was closed for major renovations.
Lady Linshui’s Temple
Right beside the park where Yanping Junwang Temple is found sits the stunning Lady Linshui’s Temple (臨水夫人媽廟). The temple is special in that it dedicated to and contains many images of female deities.
The main deity is Chen Jinggu (陳靖姑), or Lady Linshui, a Taoist priestess/spirit channeller in the 700s who is now considered the protector goddess of women, children, and pregnancy. She is also considered the daughter of Guanyin.
According to a legend from Fuzhou in Fujian province, where most Taiwanese’s ancestors originate, she brought rain during a drought, but lost her baby and died as a result. Today, there are around 130 temples dedicated to her in Taiwan.
Women usually visit this temple to pray for success in pregnancy or when they have issues with their baby, such as crying too much.
A tall red entrance gate leads to the main, gold-filled shrine, with several women depicted in statues and on the walls. Don’t miss going to the back room and especially up to the second floor, which has some particularly stunning paintings of women on the backs of the room doors (see first image for this entry).
Wufei (Five Concubines Temple)
Also dedicated to women, the Five Concubines Temple, or Wufei Temple (五妃廟) is a small but meaningful temple in a tranquil park about 15 minutes south (on foot) from the Tainan Confucius Temple and other attractions in the Tainan city center.
The temple is dedicated to the five concubines of Zhu Shugui, prince of the Kingdom of Tungning when it was taken over by the Qing. The prince originally lived in a palace that is now the Tainan Grand Matsu Temple (see next entry).
On the eve of the takeover in 1683, the five concubines committed suicide in their palace, and prince followed suit the next day after burying them. The suicides took place in the second room of the palace, which you can now visit today at Tainan Grand Matsu Temple.
Wufei is a small, two-winged building, with five small statues representing the concubines in the middle. Their names were Lady Yuan, Lady Wang, Xiugu, Sister Mei, and Sister He.
There used to be beautifully cracked paintings of the women on the doors of the temple (see photo above). Unfortunately, when I visited in 2022, they have been replaced with ugly printouts (see first photo in this entry), but hopefully they will be properly repainted in the future.
There is also a small shrine on site for two other servants who died.
Tainan Grand Mazu Temple
The Tainan Grand Mazu Temple (大天后宮) is Tainan city center’s main temple dedicated to Matsu, goddess of fishermen and the sea, considered the patron goddess of Taiwan. It was the first government-built Matsu temple in all of Taiwan.
The temple was originally built in 1664 as a palace for the southern Ming prince Zhu Shugui, whose 5 concubines are honored at Wufei Temple. The room in which they committed suicide is the second room of the temple, behind the main shrine, now dedicated to Matsu’s parents.
The temple was converted to a Matsu temple in 1684, and was the first temple to call her “empress” (天后) rather than “princess” of heaven. The current appearance dates to 1775, but it was completely rebuilt in identical appearance after a fire in 1818, then again after an earthquake in 1946.
In the temple today, the earliest remaining Qing-dynasty stone tablet in Taiwan, erected in 1685 by Shi Lang, is on the right side of the main hall. The Matsu sculpture in the main shrine is over 300 years old and was built by a master from Quanzhou in Fujian province. The sculpture is a masterpiece that has inspired many other Matsu statues in Taiwan since.
While touring Tainan’s temples, I stayed in this budget hotel, which had a cool Japanese police-dorm style room with a sliding door. It was conveniently located within a few blocks of Matsu Grand Temple, God of War Temple, and Shuixian Temple.
God of War Temple
Just a few minutes away on foot from the Grand Mazu Temple is the God of War Temple (臺灣祀典武廟). As the name suggests, it is dedicated to Guan Gong (關公), also known as Guan Yu (關羽) or Guan Di (關帝), the God of War.
Guan Gong was a 3rd century Han Dynasty military general, worshiped as an example of loyalty and righteousness, and by businessmen as the God of Commerce.
The most interesting feature you’ll likely notice before even entering is the long, crimson red outer wall of the temple, which runs along Yongfu Road section 2 along the temple’s east side, with cars and scooters whizzing past.
Another unique feature of the temple is the super high threshold at the entrance, because women were once banned from entering the temple.
Taiwanfu City God Temple
Almost every major city in the Chinese-speaking world has (or had) a Cheng Huang (城隍 or City God) temple, and the Taiwanfu City God Temple (灣府城隍廟) was the City God temple of Taiwanfu, or the Taiwan Prefecture during the Qing Dynasty. It is the oldest city god temple in all of Taiwan.
A City God essentially protects the people of a city or village and mans the gates to hell – chenghuang literally means “city moat”. The temple was built in 1684, and it wasn’t until 1875 that Taipei city was designated as a separate prefecture, and other cities followed. For reference, Taipei’s Xiahai City God Temple dates much later, to 1859.
The most interesting and unique feature of the Taiwanfu City God Temple is a giant abacus, meant to be used calculating people’s good and bad deeds after death. The abacus was donated to the temple in 1937. You can see it by looking up and back after first entering the temple (see right side of picture above).
There are also inscriptions inside the temple encouraging people to be responsible for their actions.
Tiantan Tiangong Temple
The Tiantan Tiangong Temple (臺灣首廟天壇, literally ““Taiwan’s first Temple of heaven”), also called Altar of Heaven Temple or 天壇, is dedicated to the Jade Emperor (玉皇) and was originally built in honor of Koxinga.
The worship site supposedly dates to the Tungning Kingdom, used by Koxinga and/or his descendants, although the current temple dates to 1854. It has been rebuilt since then, but the stone carvings and dragon pillars are original.
On the 9th day of first lunar month every year, the birthday of the Jade Emperor, there’s a major procession leading to the temple. Worshippers also visit on the 1st and 15th day of lunar month to pray for the well-being of their families.
One of the temple’s most interesting features is a famous plaque with a single stroke of calligraphy, which can be seen above the main shrine – it’s considered one of the top-3 most famous in all of Taiwan.
The temple is conveniently located near several of the top attractions in the city center, including Wu Garden, Hayashi Department Store, and National Taiwan Museum of Literature.
The small but old and significant Dongyue Temple (臺南東嶽殿) is also considered the Hell Temple. It dates to 1673 and is on the traditional list of the 8 most important temples in the city.
People go there to ask for life advice or to communicate with spirit mediums, which you can often witness as a visitor (I saw one such ceremony taking place the last time I visited).
The first room is dedicated to Dong Yue Da Di (東嶽大帝), who is also associated with Taishan (Mont Tai) in China, which people consider a gate to heaven. The second room is to a bodhisattva (Ksitigarbha), while the third room is to demon gods.
The main reason to visit is to observe interesting rituals. The temple is also one of the closest to Tainan’s TRA (regular) train station.
Koxinga Ancestral Shrine
Not to be confused with Koxinga Shrine (Yanping Jungwang Temple), described above, the smaller and lesser known Koxinga Ancestral Shrine (鄭成功祖廟) is a humble shrine set in what feels more like a traditional house than a temple.
The shrine was first built by Zheng Ping in 1663 to worship his father, Koxinga. Watch for the rare statue of Koxinga as a child with his mother out front. The old brick well on the street in front of the shrine is all that remains of the original shrine.
Inside there’s a Koxinga statue in the main hall and some Confucian tablets in a back room. The back room is open to the alley behind it.
It only takes a few minutes to see the temple, but it is conveniently located near Hayashi Department Store and Tainan Confucius Temple, so there’s a good chance you’ll be passing by.
Temple of Avalokitesvara & Xingji Temple
This pair of temples, the Temple of Avalokitesvara (大觀音亭) and Xingji Temple (興濟宮) is unique because here you have a Buddhist temple (the former) physcally joined with a Taoist one (the latter). They are collective called 大觀音亭興濟宮. It’s hard to imagine the same thing happening between other religions!
The Temple of Avalokitesvara is on the left as you approach the temples. Dating to 1678, it is dedicated to the Boddhisattva of Compassion, and Guanyin.
You can tell it is Buddhist as soon as entering – when I visited, there was a group of robed women chanting Buddhist mantras in the main hall. In the back hall, devotees sat cross-legged before Buddhist statues as incense smoke filled the air.
Next door is Xingji Temple, dedicated to the Baosheng Emperor, the god of medicine. People usually visit it when they or someone they know is sick. Inside, beside the main shrine, you can spot the Tiger God, General Xiatan (下壇將軍), who at this temple is known to like fried chicken, especially KFC, and eggs. If given to him, the chicken has to be left for at least 3-4 hours.
Between the two temples is an office that manages both of them. The temples are physically connected by a central gate and short roof above the office.
Medicine God Temple
The Medicine God Temple (三協境全台開基藥王廟) is one of three small but significant Taoist temples located near the popular Shennong Street in the northwestern corner of West Central District, the district where most of Tainan’s famous sights are found. All three are on the traditional list of most important Taoist temples in Tainan.
The far western end of Shennong Street literally dead ends at the Medicine God Temple – the temple faces the primarily pedestrian street rather than the main road (Jinhua St. section 4) that runs behind it.
The temple dates to 1685 and is dedicated to Yao Wang, the god of pharmaceuticals and medicine. Which exact god “Yao Wang” refers to has been debated by scholars. Some say the god is Shennong, who lends his name to the road, while others say it should actually be the physician Bian Que (扁鵲) and thus the temple should be called a Yao Huang (not Yao Wang) temple.
The temple has been rebuilt several times (most recently in 1990), but still contains some original components like a plaque dating to 1788, and couplets and incense burners dating to 1831. While most temples in Tainan face south, this one faces east because Yaowang “welcomes life”.
When I visited, I could only enter the small shine on the first floor, where there was a small statue of Yaowang and some paintings blackened by years of incense smoke. In the paintings, watch for images of a boy collecting medicinal herbs.
Tainan’s Wind Temple, also called the Wind God Temple (風神廟 or Fengshen Miao) stands out in that it is the only wind god temple in all of Taiwan.
The first thing you’ll likely note upon arriving at the Wind Temple is the two stone gates in the square in front of the temple: a taller central one facing the temple’s entrance (see photo above), and a shorter one to the east of the entrance. Originally thought to be drum and bell towers, they were later identified as stele pavilions and have been rebuilt to resemble their original appearance following two earthquakes.
Inside the temple, which dates to 1739, on the main shrine, the God of Wind (風神) is flanked on either side by the green God of Water (水神) and red God of Fire (火神). Further to the sides are Lei Gong (雷公), the God of Thunder, and Dian Mu, the Goddess of Lightning (電母).
The temple used to be located at the entrance of a major harbor in Tainan. Sailors arriving from or departing to China would stop and pray or make sacrifices to the God of Wind for a safe passage.
Tainan Shuixian Temple
The Tainan Shuixian Temple (臺郡三郊水仙宮) is another temple devoted to an element god, the Water Gods (水仙尊王 or shuixian zunwang) – there are actually five of them.
The most notable feature of this temple is that it lies buried within a busy morning wet market, which is named after it: the Shuixian Gong Market. The market stalls go right up to the temple, so it is impossible to even take a picture of the whole temple front, unless perhaps with a wide-angle lens. Right behind the temple, Shuixian Gong Market connects to another popular market, Yongle Market.
The Five Water Gods, or Five Kings of the Water Immortals, were five legendary emperors and nobles in China that were each in some way associated with water. They were worshipped by shipping merchants, and the merchants funded the temple.
The temple was originally built at the harborside in 1703. The current temple was reduced in size by the Japanese. Inside, there isn’t too much evidence that it is related to water, but there are some impressive dragon carvings.
Fun fact: there is also a shrine to the Five Water Gods in the Anping Tianhou Temple and the Grand Matsu Temple in Tainan.
I highly recommend 達也濱家漁場, a sushi bar right inside Shuixian Gong Market, and only a few steps away from the temple!
Tainan Jade Emperor Temple
The Jade Emperor Temple (開基玉皇宮), also known as the Old Tiangong Temple (舊天公廟) is one of Taiwan’s oldest temples dedicated to the Jade Emperor (玉皇上帝), like the Tiantan Tiangong Temple (see above).
This one has origins as a worship site going back to 1670. Like many others in Tainan, it has been damaged by earthquakes and rebuilt several times, including a major one in 1800, after which some of its statues were relocated to Xingji Temple nearby, then returned post WWII.
Although not on the list of most significant temples in Tainan, I’ve decided to include it for its long history and because the roof carvings were especially beautifully when I visited, as the setting sun cast low rays of light on them, and there were some lovely lanterns and plaques inside.
The temple is also conveniently located between Tainan Park to its north and a cluster of sights to its south (Temple of Avalokitesvara & Xingji Temple, Chikhan Tower, God of War Temple, and Tainan Grand Mazu Temple), so you may well be walking right past it like I did.
Temples in Anping and other Tainan Districts
Anping is the historic harbor area of Tainan and home to the Dutch-built Anping Fort (Fort Zeelandia), Anping Tree House, and Anping Old Street. One of the most impressive and important temples in Tainan lies there, while another even larger and more imposing one lies further north in Annan District.
At the end, I include a few more further afield in Tainan City (what used to be Tainan County).
Anping Mazu Temple
The Anping Mazu Temple (安平開臺天后宮, or Kaitai Tianhou Temple) was one of the most impressive for me of all the Tainan temples. It stands out for its history, sheer size, double eaves with vibrant turquoise roof tiles, intricate roof statues, and beautiful Matsu statues inside.
The original temple was built beside Anping harbor in 1668, making it the oldest Matsu temple on the entire island of Taiwan (the only older one in the country is in Magong, capital of Penghu archipelago, a group of offshore islands belong to Taiwan).
The temple was constructed to house Matsu statues that Koxinga had brought to Taiwan from Meizhou in Fujian province. The sailors said that the statues had led them to Taiwan when they first landed in 1661. It was moved to the current location in 1962, right beside Anping Fort, and most recently renovated in 1994.
The main three Matsu statues on display today are soft-bodied, with jointed feet, hands, and fingers. They date to the Song Dynasty.
If you happen to visit around Matsu’s birthday (the 23rd day of the 3rd lunar month), you can expect to see major processions and festivities here.
Conveniently, the temple is very close to the Fort’s entrance. After visiting the fort, the exit gate at the back naturally leads to Anping Treehouse, another major site, so it makes sense to start your Anping explorations at the Matsu Temple.
If you spent the night in Anping, which is convenient for visiting Anping Matsu Temple, Luerhmen Matsu Temple, Sicao Green Tunnel, and Anping Fort/Old Street/Treehouse, I high recommend this hotel.
Luerhmen Mazu Temple
North of Anping district in Tainan’s Annan District lies another even larger Matsu temple, the Luerhmen Mazu Temple (正統鹿耳門聖母廟, or Orthodox Luerhmen Shengmu Temple).
This is the world’s largest Matsu temple complex, spanning 40 hectares, and one of the largest temples in Taiwan. Upon arriving, you can’t miss the towering statues of two fierce heavenly generals, Shun Feng Er (With-the-Wind Ear) and Qian Li Yan (Thousand Miles Eye) (順風耳與千里眼) in the immense parking lot, protecting the Matsu temple.
According to informational panels at the temple, fishermen in the area have been worshipping Matsu there as early as the 12th century. When Koxinga visited in 1661, there was already a temple on site (if true, this would make the temple even older than the Anping Matsu Temple).
The temple was flooded in 1831, moved somewhere else, then a floating temple was built in 1913. In 1914, the present temple was first constructed, and of course renovated and expanded (massively so) several times since, with much of the current structure dating to 1981. There’s even a huge moat surrounding the temple, and the whole complex is based on the Forbidden City in Beijing.
You can reach the temple by taking bus #11 from Tainan train station and getting off at Shengmu Temple stop (聖母廟) or tourist bus #99 from Anping or Sicao Green Tunnel, another famous attraction in Annan District. Note that bus 99 has been scaled back to weekends only during COVID-19, but should go back to daily after Taiwan welcomes tourists again.
Kaiyuan Temple (開元寺) is one of the most important Buddhist temples in Tainan. Originally its grounds were part of the Koxinga family’s royal gardens in the Tungning Kingdom. It was then converted to a Buddhist temple in 1690.
The temple complex is located in North District, just like a few others I’ve listed in the central Tainan section above, but I list it here because it is a ways further north, so you’ll need to get there by scooter, taxi, or bus (try the Shing Nan Bus company green line from Tainan Train Station) to get there, rather than on foot.
I haven’t been there yet, but visitors report that the temple grounds are expansive, quiet, and tourist free.
Xuejia Ciji Temple
The Ciji Temple (學甲慈濟宮) in Tainan’s Xuejia District is one of the most important temples in northern Tainan. As a worship site, it dates all the way back to 1661 (the same year Koxinga arrived in Taiwan) and is dedicated to the Baosheng Emperor (保生大帝).
The main Baosheng Emperor statue dates to the Song Dynasty and was brought over from Zhangzhou in Fujian province by one of Koxinga’s generals.
The temple has a particularly impressive entrance gate. It also contains several pottery artworks dating to the 1860s, by pottery master Ye Wang. On the 11th day of the 3rd lunar month, the temple hosts a major celebration related to the temple’s ancestral temple in Fujian.
Yanshui Wu Temple
Yanshui district in northern Tainan is most famous for the annual Yanshui Fireworks Festival. The festival has been called one of the most dangerous in the world, and the whole thing starts at Yanshui Wu Temple (鹽水武廟).
Around 1875, a cholera epidemic swept through Tainan, and locals set off firecrackers to plead to Guan Yu and to scare off the disease-causing demons. It seemed to work, and an annual tradition was born.
Today, on the 15th day of the 1st lunar month (the same day as the lantern festival, one of Taiwan’s most important festivals), thousands of bottle rockets are fired directly at masses of people, sometimes burning them or setting their clothing on fire. I’ve participated in the event, and it was truly wild!
As we waited for the festival to begin, we nervously stood in the large square in front of the temple. In the photo above, you can see the loudspeakers used to provide instructions to the attendees.
Well, that brings us to the end of my list of the best temples in Tainan City, Taiwan. While there are many other important ones that didn’t make the list, I hope my selections offer a good spread of the city’s mesmerizing sacred landscape!