Taipei’s second oldest neighbourhood after Wanhua, Datong (大同; dàtóng) lines the Danshui River north of Ximending. The district evolved from two villages; north of Minquan Road, Dalongtong was established in the early eighteenth century while to the south Dadaocheng was created in 1853 by refugees from Wanhua. The latter flourished in the 1870s as tea exports boomed and foreign companies established bases on the wharf. Today it’s a enticing place to wander, its narrow lanes littered with historic buildings, traditional shops and temples.
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Historic Dihua Street (迪化街; díhuà jiē) cuts through the southern half of Datong, crammed with photogenic shophouses built in Chinese Baroque style, many dating from the 1920s; at Chinese New Year the street expands into an open-air emporium for traditional gifts and snacks. Start exploring at the Nanjing Road end, thirty minutes’ walk east of Zhongshan MRT Station (or NT$90 by taxi). North of here, the road is lined with silk and cloth stores, followed by Traditional Chinese Medicine, herbs and dried-food sellers.
Baoan Temple (保安宮; bǎoān gōng), a few metres north of the Confucius Temple on Hami Street (and signposted from Yuanshan MRT Station), is Taipei’s most beautiful shrine. Though there are many deities enshrined here, the principal figure is Baosheng Dadi, regarded as a god of medicine or healing. Tradition maintains that immigrants from Tongan began worshipping here in 1742 and a simple shrine was completed in 1760, but the first official temple was constructed between 1805 and 1830. The temple won a UNESCO conservation award in 2003 in recognition of the incredible restoration work completed in the 1990s.
Before you go in, check out the painted wall carving inside the East Gate to the right of the Entrance Hall – it features Chinese hero Yue Fei having the words “Serve Your Country” being carved onto his back by his patriotic mother. Once inside you’ll see the Main Hall across the courtyard, packed with numerous images of Baosheng and surrounded by statues of the 36 celestial officials, carved between 1829 and 1834 and exceptionally rare pieces of temple art. Hard to spot, but there are slight differences between the left and right sides of the hall, a result of the rivalry between the two master craftsmen hired for the restoration of 1917. You won’t miss the seven eye-catching murals that adorn the outer walls of the hall however – they depict various Chinese legends and were completed in 1973. The Drum Tower on the left (west) side of the courtyard houses a shrine to the Birth Goddess, while the Bell Tower on the opposite side is a shrine to Mazu. Shennong Dadi, the god of agriculture, is worshipped in the Rear Hall. The Baosheng Cultural Festival is usually held April to May and comprises several weeks of traditional performances to celebrate Baosheng’s birthday (Lunar March 15), including an extensive programme of Chinese opera and music in the evenings. The birthday is marked by a solemn ceremony in the temple, while a boisterous parade usually takes place the day before.