These three temples in Keelung are referred to as the Three Big Temples (基隆三大廟). They are clustered closely around Keelung Harbor, the place where many immigrants settled in the 19th and 20th centuries, and which, because of this, developed more rapidly. The Three Big Temples, all Taoist, are the Chenghuang Temple (基隆護國城隍廟), the Qing’an Temple (慶安宮) and the Dianji Temple (奠濟宮). They have earned this name because, well, they are literally the biggest temples in Keelung.
It’s true that temples in Taiwan are abundant. No matter where in Taiwan you are, chances are you’re a stone’s throw from a temple, an accessibility that readily competes with claw machine arcades or convenience stores. According to wikipedia, in 2019 the number of religious buildings in Taiwan was at 15,175, of which 12,279 were Buddhist or Taoist temples. While many temples are designated for particular gods and religions – Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Folk Religion – it is not uncommon to see a combination of gods worshipped within a single temple.
Temples are a central point of culture and life in Taiwan, frequented often to pay respects or to make requests. They are highly attended on days of special festivals or ceremonies. Temples are a place where the community gathers, prays, worships and celebrates.
If you have an interest in temples, and find yourself in Keelung, these three notable temples are worth your time. Because they are so close together, it is easy to visit them all in an hour or two.
Keelung Chenghuang (City God) Temple 基隆護國城隍廟
Each big city in Taiwan has its own City God Temple, a common practice here as well as in China, Korea and Vietnam. As the name implies, City God Temples are dedicated to the City Gods who reside over and protect the city. The City Gods are also said to be in charge of the living and the dead, to mete out punishments or rewards, and to grant blessings or inflict bad fortune. To inspire their benevolence, people give them offerings and perform ceremonies. In Keelung, this is the Chenghuang (“City God”) Temple (城隍廟), built in 1887. The City God is an old official of Keelung who lived during the Qing Dynasty, respected for his compassion and honesty.
The Chenghuang Temple occupies a very auspicious spot overlooking Keelung Harbor, across from Maritime Plaza. It is the kind of historic temple that looks unassuming and deceptively small, sitting amidst the hustle and bustle on Keelung’s busiest road, and for this reason it will catch your eye. It is intricately decorated, with colorful dragons lining the roof, beautiful stone carvings adorning the entrance and two stone lions standing guard. Inside is a large abacus, said to calculate the good and evil in the world.
Each year the Chenghuang Temple plays a vital role in the Keelung Mid Summer Ghost Festival. After the spirits have been sent back to the underworld and the gates of hell closed, the temple holds a ceremony parading the city gods around the harbor on boat. In doing so, they lead any lingering spirits back to the spirit world and away from the living.
Qing’an Temple 慶安宮
Qing’an Temple (慶安宮), also known as the Mazu Temple, is located just a block south of the Chenghuang Temple in the heart of downtown Keelung. Originally built in 1780, it is one of Keelung’s oldest temples. It was rebuilt in its new location in 1815 to be more accessible to Keelung’s residents.
This temple really made me do a triple-take the first time I saw it. If you don’t know it’s there, you might stumble across it on your way to the fish market. It is tucked away like a hidden gem, sandwiched between large and somewhat overbearing buildings. Qing’an is a striking temple, with a grand entrance and impressive presence.
It was built for the worship of Mazu, goddess of the sea and protector of fishermen and the sea-faring, a particularly important figure in sea-bound coastal communities. On the 23rd day of the 3rd lunar month, the temple hosts celebrations and an annual parade for Mazu’s birthday, which is quite a spectacle to behold!
Each year during the Keelung Ghost Festival, the Dipper Lantern Parade is held on the 13th day of the 7th lunar month, ending at Qing’an Temple. Each family clan in Keelung that helps to host the festival has a special dipper lantern intricately carved from wood. Dipper lanterns are used in Taoist ceremonies for protection, improving karma and promoting long life (learn more about dipper lanterns and see some pictures in my ghost festival post here). The lanterns are paraded around town during the ceremony, and throughout the rest of the year remain safely kept at Qing’an Temple.
Pictured below are some moon blocks or jiao bei (筊杯), a popular divination tool in Taiwanese temples. You can use them to ask the gods a question. Once you have asked your question, throw two of the moon blocks. If they both land flat-side down, the answer is no. If they land one face up and one face down, the answer is yes. If they land both rounded-side down, the gods are laughing at your question 😋 You can throw the blocks up to three times for an answer!
Dianji Temple 奠濟宮
A few blocks away from the other two temples is Dianji Temple (奠濟宮), located in the center of Keelung’s famous Miaokou Night Market (廟口夜市). For this reason, I suggest ending your tour here so you can tuck into some special local fare after all that temple-gawking!
Built in 1873 during the Qing Dynasty, it is Keelung’s largest temple. It was erected for the worship of King Kaizhang, a native of Henan who became beloved for bringing peace to the Fujian and Guangdong provinces in 686 AD. Being that many of Keelung’s people are descendants of immigrants from Southern China, they have a particular affinity for the kind Kaizhang. For this reason, the temple is also referred to as “Holy King Temple”.
The Dianji Temple has a past frought with war, and would have been lost many times were it not for the dedication and resilience of Keelung’s people. Dianji Temple was used as a stronghold during the Sino-French War (1884) and as an arsenal during the Yiwei War, a resistance to the new imposition of Japanese rule (1895). In both instances the temple suffered damage from mines. Residents restored the temple a few years later. During WWII, the temple was destroyed by allied bombing, and took several years to rebuilt from the late 1950s to the early 1960s. In the late 1990s renovation began and the temple was enlarged to a three-story building. The top floor is dedicated to the Jade Emperor, ruler of heaven.
On the 15th of February each year, the temple hosts a ceremony, activities for visitors and an opera which is performed to bring good weather. Below you can see a picture of just such a opera in action!
There you have it, Keelung’s Three Big Temples! They are well worth a visit for anyone interested in Taiwan’s rich culture and religion scene. To see what I would assert is Keelung’s coolest temple, check out my post A Keelung Day Trip: The Secret Spot Itinerary. For some handy insider tips on visiting temples, check out this article from Commonwealth Magazine on ways to more deeply understand and appreciate Taiwanese temples. As always, let me know what you think in the comments below!