Kaiyuan Monastery (Kāiyuán Sì 開元寺)
One of the most beautiful and historic temples in Tainan is also one of its least known due to its remote location. This historic place is reportedly the oldest monastery in Taiwan, and was the home of the Zheng family towards the end of their reign on the island. Today it is an expansive temple compound filled with large trees and Buddhist monks and nuns who care for the building’s material and spiritual well-being. The lush grounds make it feel similar to the Confucian Temple, but it is much quieter and far less visited.
The monastery was originally a personal estate called Beiyuan Villa. Zheng Chenggong’s son, Zheng Jing, had the original structures built in 1680 as a home for his mother and himself after they had retreated from Xiamen when it was captured by the Qing. Zheng Jing barely saw the completion, though. He fell ill and died in Tainan in early 1681. Two years later, the Zhengs were toppled by the Qing army, and that was the end of their residence.
In 1690, the Qing officials had Beiyuan Villa converted into a temple. It developed into a Buddhist monastery and has been home to several generations of monks. Over the years, it’s undergone many additions and renovations, and has been known as Haihui Temple, Haiqing Temple, and now Kaiyuan Temple or Kaiyuan Monastery. It is currently home to about 130 monks and nuns who worship the Siddhartha Gautama (Sakyamuni) Buddha.
The monastery houses many historic treasures. One of the most famous is the 800 kilogram copper bell. It was constructed in 1695, making it the oldest such bell in Taiwan. The doors of the large gate have been painted impressively with massive door gods. These are the works of master painter Cai Cao Ru, whose other works include paintings at Wen Wu Temple at Sun Moon Lake. Several stone tablets chronicling the temple’s various renovations are kept in a kiosk to the side of the front yard.
Visiting the temple is a peaceful and restorative experience, especially in the morning and evening hours. It is also a good excuse to get out to the northeastern part of the city and see an important historic temple that many tourists miss out on. The Buddhist hospital next door is also connected to the temple.
Location: No.89 Beiyuan Street (北園街), North District, Tainan City