Jinci Temple

Top choice Historic Site

in Taiyuan

This sprawling complex sits on the source of the Jin River in arid Shanxi. The earliest structures and the irrigation canal (which still gushes on rainy days) were built between the 7th and 2nd centuries BC. Over the dynasties, Jinci Temple has been a site for the worship of ancestors, water deities and a plethora of gods; it was also an imperial garden where religious rites and sporting contests were held. The highlights are structures on the central axis, including the magnificent Hall of the Sacred Mother.

The Hall of the Sacred Mother (圣母殿, Shèngmǔ Diàn) is a gorgeous wooden structure first built (without using a single nail) in AD 984 then renovated in 1102. Eight dragons twine their way up the first row of pillars. Inside are 42 Song dynasty clay maidservants of the sacred lady, the mother of Prince Shuyu, who founded the state of Jin (772–403 BC). Adjacent is the Zhou Cypress, an unusual tree that has been growing at an angle of about 30 degrees for the last 900 years. In the River Goddess Building, raised in the 16th century, the said deity sits in a cave-like niche, a psychedelic cloud-and-wave mural behind her. Fragrant pines and stately cypresses lend the temple complex an air of graceful antiquity that is complemented by younger and shorter rose bushes and apricot trees.

Many of the signs and labels on the compound are bilingual.

Take bus 804 or 308 from Taiyuan Train Station (¥5, 45 minutes). Jinci Temple is 25km southwest of downtown Taiyuan.