Beiji Temple (Bēijí Diàn 北極殿)
Commonly translated as the “North Pole Palace” or “Arctic Palace,” Beiji Temple is Tainan’s premier place of worship for honoring the Emperor of Mysterious Heaven, known as Xuán Wǔ (玄武) or Xuán Tiān Shàng Dì (玄天上帝). The temple is one of Tainan’s oldest, dating back to the arrival Zhèng Chénggōng (鄭成功). Although some of the historic feel has been stripped away by renovations, this Second Class National Historic Site is full of Tainan’s heritage.
It is called the Arctic Palace because Xuan Wu is the god of the north and controls the elements of cold. Xuan Wu is one of the most revered of Taoist deities, particularly by martial artists and anyone wanting to avoid harm from fire. He is usually depicted as a warrior in imperial clothes, clutching a seal in his left hand and a sword in his right. He also sits on a thrown and is stepping on a snake and a turtle. Xuan Wu is worshipped throughout Taiwan and can be worshipped at another historic temple nearby known as Kaiji Lingyou Temple.
Beiji Temple was originally a Dutch clinic, and was used by Zheng Chenggong as a medical station during his siege on Fort Zeelandia. After the Dutch surrendered, Zheng decided the building should be converted into a temple honoring the Emperor of Mysterious Heaven. The temple was reportedly completed in 1665, a few years after Zheng’s death. The temple has gone under several renovations and has lost some of its historic feel. The front part of the temple was demolished during road expansion under the Japanese. It has also gone through some recent refurbishment and so the interior may not look like any photos seen in guidebooks or other websites.
Despite the surface changes of the temple, the Arctic Palace still houses many relics of antiquity. In addition to paintings by celebrated folk artists, old columns and woodwork, and bells brought from the mainland, the tablet in the niche above the hall is one of the most historic treasures of Tainan. The tablet inscribed with the words wēi líng hè yì (威靈赫奕), meaning either “brightness of mighty spirits” or “dignity and brightness”, was styled and hung by Prince Ningjing during his reign. It is the only such tablet remaining from the Ming dynasty, making it the oldest in Taiwan.
Location: No.89 Minquan Road (Mincyuan Rd. 民權路), Section 2, West Central District, Tainan City