Asakusa Shrine (Tokyo, Japan)

Torii (Japanese gate) leading to Akasusa Shrine

The Asakusa Shrine (浅草神社 Asakusa-jinja), one of the most famous Shinto shrines in the city, is also known as Sansha-sama (Shrine of the Three gods, san means “three” and sama means “shrine”). The shrine. popular among the public, stands only a few dozen meters to the left of the main hall on the east side of Sensō-ji Temple, down a street marked by a large stone torii.

Akasusa Shrine

Part of a larger grouping of sacred buildings in the area, the shrine honors the three men who founded the Sensō-ji. According to legend, on May 17, 628, two fishermen brothers, named Hinokuma Hamanari and Hinokuma Takenari, picked up a bosatsu Kannon statuette of Sensoji Temple caught in a fishing-net in the Sumida River.  Hajino Nakatomo, the third man, was a wealthy landlord who, upon hearing about the discovery, approached the brothers.

Shrine Pavilion

He delivered an impassioned sermon about the Buddha to the brothers who were very impressed and subsequently converted to the Buddhist religion and devoted their lives to preaching the way of Buddhism. Nakatomo consecrated the Kannon statue in a small temple. These three men are worshiped here as Sanja Gongen.

The shrine, commissioned by Tokugawa Iemitsu, the third shogun of the Tokugawa dynasty, was built in 1649 during the Edo Period.  It was integrated with Sensoji Temple until the Edo period.  However, when the Gods and Buddha separation ordinance was promulgated in the Meiji period, it was separated from Sensoji and renamed Asakusa Shrine. Its beautiful, vermillon-lacquered shrine pavilion was built in the same style as the Nikko Toshogu, in the gongen-zukuri style of Shinto architecture.

Statue of Lion-Dog (Kumainu)

Unlike many other structures in the area, including the Sensō-ji Temple, the shrine, along with the Nitenmon Gate, where the only two buildings in the area to survived the  World War II Tokyo air raids of 1945.  In 1951, because of this rich and long history, both were designated as an Important Cultural Property by the Japanese Government.

Nitenmon Gate

The Niten-mon Gate, located to the east of the main hall and to the right of Asakusa Shrine, was erected in 1618 (the current gate was said to have been rebuilt in 1649) as a shrine gate, with statues of Toyoiwamado no Mikoto and Kushiiwamado no Mikoto placed on either side.

Ablution Fountain

The gate was left standing after the deity enshrined in Toshogu was moved to Koyozan, inside of Edo Castle. After the separation of the Buddhist and Shinto religions during the Meiji Restoration, Shinto deities were removed to Asakusa Shrine. In their place, a statue of Tatenmon was enshrined, but this has subsequently been lost. This massive, 8.13 m. wide (at the beam) structure has 8 pillars and was built in the mitsumune zukuri style with a tiled roof in built in the kiritzuma zukuri style.

Prayer Wall

The shrine‘s annual,  popular Sanja Matsuri festival, one of the Three Great Festivals of Edo (the old name of Tokyo), is held in late spring for 3 days (Friday to Sunday) every third weekend of May. which takes place over 3–4 days .  During the festival, the surrounding streets are closed to traffic, from dawn until late evening.  Well known for the “soul swing,” the festival vividly demonstrates the traditional Edo style, depicted in the old saying “fights and fireworks are Edo’s flowers.” During the festival, portable shrines called mikoshi are wildly swung around in a wild parade, reaching a climax when three mikoshi called ichi-no-miya, ni-no-miya and san-no-miya leave and return to Asakusa Shrine.  The procession includes 120 mikoshi from a total of 44 parishioner associations affiliated with Asakusa Shrine, making it Tokyo’s most spectacular festival.

A mikoshi (portable shrine) on display at Asakusa Station

Asakusa Shrine: 2-26-1, AsakusaTaitō-ku, Tokyo 111-0032, Japan. Tel: 03-3844-1575.  Website: www.asakusajinja.jp/english/

How to Get There:  The shrine is a 7-min. walk from Asakusa Station (Toei Asakusa Line, Tokyo Metro Ginza Line, Tobu Isesaki Line, Tsukuba Express.

Sensō-ji Temple (Tokyo, Japan)

Senso-ji Temple

It was our last day in Tokyo but we still had time for sightseeing before departing on our evening flight back to Manila, so we visited the Sensō-ji (金龍山浅草寺 Kinryū-zan Sensō-ji) Kannon temple, an ancient Buddhist temple dedicated to Kannon Bosatsu (the Bodhisattva of compassion who is believed to take away the people’s suffering and make their wishes come true).

Jinrikisha (Ricksaw)

“Senso” is an alternative reading for Asakusa and “ji” means temple. Asakusa (浅草) is the center of Tokyo‘s shitamachi (literally “low city”), one of Tokyo’s districts.  Here, an atmosphere of the Tokyo of past decades is said to survive. From our hotel, we walked to the nearby Akasaka-Mitsuke Station and took the train to Asakusa Station. The trip took all of 30 mins.

Strolling into Asakusa

Outside Asakusa Station was a number of jinrikisha (literally “man powered vehicle”). A 30-min. tour, for two persons, on board these rickshaws costs around JP¥9000.  The temple was a short 10-min. walk from the station.  Surprisingly, even for a Monday, there were lots of people on the street.  Adjacent to the temple is a five-story pagoda, a Shinto shrine, the Asakusa Shrine, as well as many shops with traditional goods in the Nakamise-dōri. Some visitors buy the charms sold at the temple.

Check out “Asakusa Shrine

The author at the temple grounds

The temple’s official name is Kinryuzan (Mountain of Golden Dragon), but it is also known as Asakusa Kannon and the residential building is called Denpo-in.  During the 10 March air raid on Tokyo in World War II, the temple was bombed and destroyed but was rebuilt later.  Today, it is a symbol of rebirth and peace to the Japanese people. In the courtyard there is a tree that is a similar symbol to the temple itself.  During the air raid, it was hit by a bomb but has regrown in the husk of the old tree.

Residents in traditional kimonos

Here are some interesting trivia regarding this temple:

  • Founded in 645 AD, it is Tokyo’s oldest temple and one of its most significant. In the early years of the Tokugawa shogunateTokugawa Ieyasu designated Sensō-ji as tutelary temple of the Tokugawa clan.
  • According to legend, two fishermen, the brothers Hinokuma Hamanari and Hinokuma Takenari, found a statue of the bodhisattvaKannon (Avalokiteśvara) in the Sumida River (Miyato River) in 628. Hajino Nakamoto, the chief of their village in Asakusa, recognized the sanctity of the statue.  To enshrine it, he remodeled his own house into a small temple so that the villagers could worship Kannon.
  • Formerly associated with Hiezan Enryakuji, the head temple of the the Tendaisect of Buddhism, it became independent as the head temple of the Seikannon sect after World War II.
  • With over 30 million visitors annually, Sensoji is the second most widely visited spiritual site in the world after the Vatican.
  • In the New Year, it ranks among the top 10 temples in Japan for the number of visitors.

Kaminarimon Gate

Dominating the entrance to the temple is the vermillon Kaminarimon (“Thunder Gate.”)  In 942, it was built as the main gate of Sensoji Temple by Kimimasa Taira in Komagata, rebuilt in 1635 but burned down in 1639. In 1649, Iemitsu Tokugawa donated the main hall, Niomon Gate (Hozomon), the five-story pagoda, and Kaminarimon Gate. Over the years, Kaminarimon Gate was destroyed by fire several times, the last time in 1866.

Nakamise-Dori heading towards Kaminarimon Gate

The existing gate dates from 1960. Konosuke Matsushita, a founder of Panasonic Corporation, contributed to its reconstruction.  An imposing Buddhist structure, its official name is Fujin- Raijin Gate.  It features a chochin, a massive paper lantern dramatically painted in vivid red-and-black tones, suggesting thunderclouds and lightning. When facing front, on the left is the statue of Rajin-sama, the god of thunder and lightning, while on the right is the statue of Fujin-sama, the god of wind. Facing the rear, on the left is the statue of Tenryu while on the right is the statue of Kinryu, both dragon gods in human form.

Hozomon Gate

Beyond the Kaminarimon is Nakamise-dori, with its shops, followed by the two-storied, dynamic Hōzōmon  which is bigger than Kaminarimon Gate and provides the entrance to the inner complex. The Hozomon, called Niomon Gate since the olden days, was destroyed by fire in 1631, rebuilt by Iemitsu Tokugawa in 1636 but burned down in the massive air raids of 1945.  In 1964, it was rebuilt with a donation from the late Eitaro Otani, third chairman of the Asakusa Tourist Federation.

Check out “Nakamise-Dori

Cochin of Hozomon Gate

It houses a pair of Ni-Ou figures in front, both guardian deities. It is said that the models for these fierce looking deities where 1960’s sumo wrestlers Kitanoumi (on the left) and Myobudani Kiyoshi (on the right).

Ni-Ou

The chicken wire keeps people from touching the statues.  The gate’s upper storey houses the temple’s Buddhist sutras that include Hokke-kyo (Lotus Sutra), which is designated as a National Treasure, and the Issai-kyo, a complete collection of Buddhist scriptures that is an Important Cultural Property. This is why the gate is called Hozomon Gate (“Treasure House Gate”).

O-Waraji (Straw Slipper)

At the back of the gate is a huge, 4.5 m. high pair of o-waraji (traditional straw slippers) weighing 2,500 kgs. Symbolic of the power of Ni-Ou, they are charms against evil. Before visiting the Main Hall, cleanse your hands and mouth at the ablution fountain of the Omizuya (generally called as Chozusha). It has a bronze statue of Sakara, the King of Water, designed by Kotaro Takamura.

Ozimuya

Within the precincts are a stately, eye-catching five-storey pagoda (Gojunoto) built, together with a lecture hall, in the new toinzukuri style in 1973; and the main hall (Hondo, also called Kannondo), devoted to Kannon Bosatsu.

Five-Storey Pagoda

The 53.32 m. tall pagoda is the second highest in Japan after the 56-m. high pagoda of Toji Temple in Kyoto. The original pagoda, built in 1648 on a different site, was destroyed by an air raid in 1945. The top of the pagoda houses Buddha’s ashes ceremonially transferred from a temple in Sri Lanka. You can’t go inside the pagoda as it is a graveyard that contains memorial tablets of thousands of families and individuals.

Main Hall (Hondo)

The impressive Main Hall, with its high-pitched roof, enshrines a principal image of Buddha, known as Kannon Bosatsu (Kannon Bodhisattva). Built in 1644, it was destroyed in 1945 and rebuilt with the same design as the old one in 1958.

Jokoro, the main incense censer, is a large bronze vessel filled with sand and ash. Bundles of incense sticks, about 2 cm in diameter and 15 cm long, are lit here. Pilgrims stop here to wave the cleansing smoke, “the breath of the gods,” over their face and body.

Giant vase with a gold Buddhist manji cross.  It is the reverse of the right-facing German swastika.

On the west side of the Main Hall is Yogodo Hall where Buddhist divinities who support Kannon Busatsu are enshrined.  At the left side of the hall is a hexagonal building (Rokkakudo), the oldest wooden structure (it was built in the 16th century).

Yogodo Hall

The Yogodo’s quiet contemplative garden, kept in the distinctive Japanese style, features an old stone bridge, the oldest in Tokyo (it was built for the Asakusa Toshogu Shrine in 1618), that spans a small pond stocked with colorful koi and fed by a rushing stream.

Stone bridge (the oldest in Tokyo) over a koi-filled pond

At many places on its approach and within the temple itself are o-mikuji stalls where, for a suggested donation of JP¥100, visitors may consult the oracle and divine answers to their questions.

Maigo-shirase Sekihyo (Mark Stone for Lost Child). Carved with “Namu Daijihi Kanzeon-bosatsu Mayoiko-no Shirube,” it had been used for exchanging information about lost children in the Edo period.

Querents shake labelled sticks, from enclosed metal containers, and read the corresponding answers they retrieve from one of 100 possible drawers.

An 8 m. high, bronze Hokyoin-to, a tiered tower or pagoda, was cast by Fijiwara Masatoki in 1761. The largest one left in Tokyo, it was damaged during an earthquake in 1855 but was restored in 1907 to commemorate Japan’s victory in the Russian – Japanese War.

Saibutsu Itabi, raised from the late Kamakura period to the early Muromachi period, measures 217.9 cm. high and 46 cm. wide. It is the largest Aoishi Toba (blue stupa) in Tokyo.

Statue of Amitabha Tathagata

The Tori No Ichi Fair, held for over 300 years in front of Sensoji on the days of the rooster in November (according to the Chinese zodiac calendar), is an interesting special event held to sell kumade bamboo rakes which are supposed to be lucky for business.

Seated bronze statue of Kannon Bodhisattva, attendant of Amida Buddha, sitting on lotus pedestal.

The Clock of Peace, a gift of the Lions Club International, originally had a square Seiko clock mounted on the pagoda but has been replaced by an ordinary National Panasonic clock.

Attracting a large number of local small business owners, when a rake is sold, the buyer and seller perform a tejime (a ritual hand clapping ceremony) together.

Hato Poppo Song Monument. Hato Poppo, is a children’s song written by Rentaro Taki and Kume Higashi. Kume came up with the lyrics for the song as she observed children play with pigeons on the grounds of Sensoji Temple. In 1962, a monument was raised at Sensoji in honor of this famous Japanese nursery song. The monument is inscribed with the words and the score for the song, with lifelike bronze pigeons resting on top.

Sensō-ji Temple: 2-3-1 Asakusa, Taitō-ku, Tokyo, Japan. Open daily, 6 AM to 5 PM (6:30 PM, October to March).  Admission is free.

How to Get There: The temple is a 10-min. walk from Asakusa Station which is served by the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line, Toei Asakusa Line and Tobu railway lines. It is also a 10-min. walk from Tawaramachi Station on the Ginza Line.

Meiji Jingu Shrine (Tokyo, Japan)

The Meiji Jingu Shrine

As we delved deeper into Yoyogi Park, we soon came across the entrance to the Meiji Shrine. Located directly in front of the entrance to the shrine was the temizuya (font), a cleansing station where visitors used wooden ladles to spiritually cleanse themselves by pouring water over their hands (left before right) and rinse mouths with their left hand.

The temizuya (hand wash pavilion)

The Meiji Shrine (明治神宮 Meiji Jingū), the largest and one of the Japan’s most popular Shinto shrines, is dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji (the shrine, however, does not contain the emperor’s grave, which is located at Fushimi-momoyama, south of Kyoto) and his wife and consort, Empress Shōken.

Torii (Japanese gate) at the entrance of the Meiji Jingu Shrine.  Devotees usually bow once here upon entering and exiting the shrine.

After the emperor’s death in 1912, the Japanese Diet passed a resolution to commemorate his role in the Meiji Restoration, choosing an iris garden, in an area of Tokyo where Emperor Meiji and Empress Shōken had been known to visit, as the building’s location. The building of the shrine, a national project, mobilized youth groups and other civic associations from throughout Japan, who contributed labor and funding. In 1915, construction began under Itō Chūta.

The Minami-Shinmon Gate

The shrine, built in the traditional nagare-zukuri style, primarily uses Japanese cypress and copper. On November 1, 1920, eight years after the passing of the emperor and six years after the passing of the empress, it was formally dedicated and completed in 1921.  Its grounds were officially finished by 1926. Until 1946, the Meiji Shrine was officially designated one of the Kanpei-taisha (官幣大社), meaning that it stood in the first rank of government supported shrines.

The author at Minami-Shinmon Gate

During the Tokyo air raids of World War II, the original building was destroyed and the present iteration of the shrine was funded through a public fund raising effort and completed in October 1958. The shrine has been visited by numerous foreign politicians, including U.S. Pres. George W. Bush, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.

Kyle, Grace and Jandy in front of the Honden (Main Hall)

The entrance to the shrine complex, marked by a massive torii gate (one of the largest in Japan) in the Myojin style, constructed from a more than 1,500 year old hinoki (Japanese cypress from Taiwan), leads through the Jingu Bashi bridge. Upon entry into the shrine grounds, the sights and sounds of the busy city are replaced by a tranquil forest and Meiji Jingu’s buildings, at the middle of the forest, that have an air of tranquility distinct from the surrounding city.

A lady worshiper praying at the Main Hall. In front of her is an offertory box where coins are dropped

Visitors to the shrine can take part in typical Shinto activities – making offerings at the main hall, buying charms and amulets, writing out one’s wish on an ema (piece of paper) and tying them on a prayer wall, etc. On the first days of the New Year, Japanese usually visit a Shinto shrine to prepare for the Hatsumōde (初詣), the year’s first prayers, and the shrine is the most popular location in Tokyo for this, regularly welcoming more than three million visitors. During the rest of the year, traditional Shinto weddings can often be seen taking place there.

Visitors shopping for omamori (lucky charms, talismans and amulets for all kinds of occasions) or ofuda (emblems bearing the name of the shrine or enshrined deities distributed by the shrine)

The shrine itself is composed of two major areas – the Naien and the Gaien. The Naien, the inner precinct, is centered on the shrine buildings, dating from 1958. The buildings, all great example of Japanese Shinto architecture, are made from Japanese cypress wood from the Kiso region of Nagano (regarded as the best in Japan) with green cooper plates used for the roofs.

Interior of the main hall

It consists of the honden (The Main Hall, the main shrine building proper and the innermost sanctuary of the shrine), noritoden (The Prayer Recital Hall where Shinto liturgy is recited), naihaiden (The Inner Shrine Hall), gehaiden (The Outer Shrine Hall), shinsenjo (the consecrated kitchen for the preparation of the food offerings) and shinko (The Treasure House).

A prayer wall where ema are hung on hooks. An ema is a wooden tablet, obtained at the juyosho (amulet offices), where wishes are written.  There are two main types of ema – Kigan-Ema (bear the crest of the shrine on their front and the word Kigan on their back) and the Eto-Ema (depicting this year’s Eto  or zodiac).

The Treasure House, at the northern end of the shrine grounds, was built in the Azekurazukuri style one year after the shrine was opened.  It displays many interesting personal belongings of the Emperor and Empress, including the carriage which the emperor rode to the formal declaration of the Meiji Constitution in 1889. The Museum Annex Building, just to the east of the main shrine buildings, displays temporary exhibitions.

Kaguraden (Hall of Shinto Music and Dance). Goshuin (Meiji Jingu Memorial Seal), to remind you of your visit to Meiji Jingu,  are stamped and hand-painted here.

The quite beautiful, simple and classic Minami-shin Mon, the main shrine gate to the inner precinct, was built in 1921.  Made entirely of Japanese cypress, it has a copper plate roof. You reach it upon passing the final myojin torii gate. This gate and one of the amulet offices (shukueisha) were the only constructions in Meiji Shrine not destroyed by the World War II raids.

The reception and registration area of the Kaguraden Hall

The Kaguraden (Hall of Shinto Music and Dance), built to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of Meiji Jingu, was started in 1990 and completed in October 1993. This 3-storey building (one floor is above the ground and the other two floors below ground level) follows the traditional Irimoya-Nagarezukuri architectural style The front entrance, with the reception and registration area, is slightly below ground level. One flight of stairs leads down, and another flight of stairs leads up to the waiting area and the hall for ceremonies.

The Gaien, the outer precinct, includes the Meiji Memorial Picture Gallery (housing a collection of 80 large murals illustrative of the events in the lives of the Emperor and his consort); a variety of sports facilities, including the National Stadium (Meiji Jingu Gaien Stadium and later, since 1956, on the same site, Tokyo Olympic Stadium); the Meiji Kinenkan (Meiji Memorial Hall).  The latter, originally used for governmental meetings (including discussions surrounding the drafting of the Meiji Constitution in the late 19th century), is now used for Shinto weddings as well as meeting rooms for rent and restaurants services.

The Meiji-jingu Gyoen (Inner Garden), a large area of the southern section of the shrine grounds, becomes particularly popular during the middle of June when the beautiful irises here are in bloom. Kiyomasa’s Well, a small well located within the garden visited by the Emperor and Empress while they were alive, was named after a military commander who dug it around 400 years ago. The well has become a popular spiritual “power spot.”

Meiji Shrine: 1-1, Kamizono-chō, YoyogiShibuya-kuTokyo 151-0053.  Open daily, from sunrise to sunset.  Admission to the shrine precinct is free. The Inner Garden, open from 9 AM to 5 PM, requires an entrance fee of JP¥500 to enter.

How to Get There: From JR Tokyo Station, get on the Yamanote Line and get off at the busy Harajuku Station on the JR Yamanote Line or Meiji-jingu-mae Station on the Chiyoda and Fukutoshin Subway Lines. It is about a 25 minute train ride. The approach to Meiji Shrine starts a few steps from Harajuku Station.  The main complex of shrine buildings is a 10-min. walk from both the southern entrance near Harajuku Station and the northern entrance near Yoyogi Station.

Temple of Leah (Cebu City, Cebu)

Temple of Leah

Part 3 of the Bluewater Maribago Beach Resort & Spa-sponsored City Tour

The grandiose Temple of Leah, Cebu City’s newest attraction, has been called the “Taj Mahal of Cebu.”  Perched on the hilltop of Busay, it was built by Teodorico Soriano Adarna, owner of the Queensland  chain of motels in Davao, Manila and Cebu, as a testament to his undying love and ceaseless devotion for Leah Villa Albino-Adarna, his wife of 54 years (Leah was 16 and Teodorico was 19 when they married), who died of lung cancer in 2012 at age of 69.

They had four children— the 56 year old Allan, 54 year old Arlene, Arthur (deceased) and the 39 year old Alex, plus 16 grandchildren, including 29 year old Filipina actress and model Ellen Adarna (eldest and only daughter of Allan). Teodorico has since remarried and now lives in Davao.

The author

This 7-storey, still unfinished temple became an instant domestic tourist attraction as it interestingly resembles the ancient Parthenon of Greece.  Started in 2013, this Philippine version of the Taj Mahal of India is due to be completed in 2020. The west balcony, surrounded by resplendent sculptures along the balustrade, has a panoramic view of the cities of Metro Cebu (Cebu, Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu) and Cebu City’s highlands.

The gigantic lion statue overlooking the west balcony

A beautiful statue along the balustrade

Its fountain has statues of four seated horses at the base and three naked maidens (in my opinion, they are probably The Three Graces) standing on a basin on top that were inspired by the Adarnas’ trip to Europe.

The three statues of naked maidens on top of the fountain

The Classic Greek and Roman-inspired (rectangular design, raised podium for the shrine, a triangular pediment above the portico of fluted Doric columns and an altar of the cult goddess under the skylight) architecture of this huge edifice is meant to be admired from the outside, awing visitors with its imposing breadth. The engraved moldings on the vaulted ceiling were, on the other hand, inspired by the temples of India.

Inside are 24 chambers, built on opposite wings, including a museum, an art gallery and a library with all the favorite and personal belongings of Leah such as books, vases, Buddha heads and various figurines, ceramic statues and souvenirs gathered from the couple’s extensive travels.

Leah’s favorite personal belongings

The statues of gigantic seated lions, on each side of the grand staircase, guided us to the door step of another jaw-dropping view, at the middle of the temple, of a grand Y-shaped staircase, a pair of huge brass angels and the 9-ft. high, bronze statue (said to have cost PhP4,000,000) of a seated Leah Albino-Adarna on a marble pedestal, with crown and flower.

Trumpet blaring brass angel

Behind the statue is a semicircular arched stained glass window featuring various angels.  At the foot of the statue is this inscription:

 

BELOVED WIFE AND MOTHER

Leah V. Albino-Adarna was chosen Matron Queen of her Alma Mater, the University of Southern Philippines. This nine-foot bronze statue portrays her composure and regal bearing when she was crowned. May the beholder discern her innate beauty, poise and genteelness.

(signed)

Teodorico Soriano Adarna

Born December 13, 1938

 

Seated statue of Leah

Distant view of the temple

Temple of Leah: Roosevelt St., Brgy. Busay Cebu City. Tel: (032) 233-5032.  Mobile number: (0906) 324-5687.  Open daily, 6 AM – 11 PM. Admission: PhP50 per pax. Professional photography for events: PhP2,500. Parking fee: PhP100 if inside the premises, free if outside (limited slots only).

Bluewater Maribago Beach Resort & Spa: Buyong, Maribago, Lapu-Lapu City, 6015, Cebu. Tel: (032) 492-0100. Fax: (032) 492-1808.  E-mail: maribago@bluewater.com.ph.   Website: www.bluewatermaribago.com.ph.  Metro Manila sales office: Rm. 704, Cityland Herrera Tower, 98 Herrera cor. Valero Sts., Salcedo Village, Makati City, Metro Manila. Tel: (02) 887-1348 and (02) 817-5751. Fax: (02) 893-5391.

How to Get There: From JY Square, ride a jeepney going to Busay (PhP10, one-way) and ask to be dropped off at the mountain view highway intersection. From there, you can walk towards the Temple of Leah.  From JY Square, you can also hire a habal-habal (motorcycle) going to the Temple of Leah. Fare is about PhP50-100. For a more convenient ride, you can just hail a cab.

Pantheon (Rome, Italy)

The Pantheon

The Pantheon and Piazza della Rotunda

The fountain and obelisk

The fountain and obelisk

Built more than 1800 years ago, the magnificent Pantheon still stands as a reminder of the great Roman Empire. It borders the Piazza della Rotonda, a rectangular square with at its center an eighteenth-century fountain crowned with an obelisk.

This constantly crowded square, situated in the historic center of Rome, is not far from Piazza NavonaWith its thick brick walls, large columns and 43 m. high dome, this cylindrical building made an immediate impression on us. As the best-preserved example of an ancient Roman monumental building, the Pantheon has been enormously influential in Western architecture from at least the Renaissance on. Even in its present state, the Pantheon allowed me a glimpse into the marvelous and stunning world of Roman architecture. This wonderful example of second century Roman architecture boasts mathematical genius and simple geometry that even today still impressed an architect like me.

Standin L-R: the author and Jandy. Seated L-R: Grace, Kyle and Cheska

Standing L-R: the author and Jandy. Seated L-R: Grace, Kyle and Cheska

The present Pantheon was built on the site of an earlier building commissioned by Marcus Agrippa during the reign of Augustus (27 BC – 14 AD), The Augustan Pantheon, along with other buildings, was destroyed in a huge fire in the year 80 AD. Domitian rebuilt the Pantheon, which was burnt again in 110 AD. It was completed by the emperor Hadrian and probably dedicated about 126 AD. In 202, the building was repaired by the joint emperors Septimius Severus and his son Caracalla (fully Marcus Aurelius Antoninus), for which there is another, smaller inscription on the architrave of the façade. In the walls at the back of the Pantheon’s portico are niches, perhaps intended for statues of Julius CaesarAugustus Caesar, and Agrippa, or for the Capitoline Triad, or another set of gods.

Jandy and the author. The inscription above reads: M•AGRIPPA•L•F•COS•TERTIVM• FECIT meaning "Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, made [this building] when consul for the third time."

Jandy and the author. The inscription above reads: M•AGRIPPA•L•F•COS•TERTIVM• FECIT meaning “Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, made [this building] when consul for the third time.”

The entrance doorway

The entrance doorway

In 609, the Byzantine emperor Phocas gave the building to Pope Boniface IV, who converted it into a Christian church and consecrated it to St. Mary and the Martyrs (LatinSanta Maria ad Martyres) on May 13, 609.

The building’s consecration as a church saved it from the abandonment, destruction, and the worst of the spoliation that befell the majority of ancient Rome’s buildings during the early medieval period. This circular building, with a front portico of three rows of large granite Corinthian columns (eight in the first rank and two groups of four behind) under a pediment, has a rectangular vestibule that links the porch to the rotunda.  The rotunda, under a coffered concrete dome, has a central opening (oculus) to the sky.

The Pantheon

The Pantheon

Here’s some interesting trivia regarding the Pantheon:

  • The name Pantheon refers to the building’s original function as a temple for all the gods. However, the generic term pantheon has sometimes been applied to other buildings in which illustrious dead are honored or buried.
  • Its date of construction has been confused as Hadrian retained Agrippa’s original inscription – M·AGRIPPA·L·F·COS·TERTIVM· FECIT meaning “Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, made [this building] when consul for the third time.”
  • It is one of the best-preserved of all ancient Roman buildings, in large part because it has been in continuous use throughout its history.
  • Almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon’s dome, substantially larger than earlier domes, is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome, spanning 150 Roman ft. It was the largest dome in the world until 1436 when Brunelleschi‘s 42-m. dome of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence was constructed.
  • The building was originally approached by a flight of steps but these were eliminated after later construction raised the level of the ground leading to the portico.
  • The Pantheon was probably constructed by using an elaborate setup of costly wooden scaffolding.
  • The grey 39 ft. (11.9 m.) high, 5 ft. (1.5 m.) diameter granite columns that were actually used in the Pantheon’s pronaos, each weighing 60 tons, were quarried at Mons Claudianus in the eastern mountains in Egypt. Each of these was dragged, on wooden sledges, more than 100 kms. (62 miles) from the quarry to the Nile River, floated by barge when the water level was high during the spring floods,  then transferred to vessels to cross the Mediterranean Sea to the Roman port of Ostia. There, they were transferred back onto barges and pulled up the Tiber River to Rome. After being unloaded near the Mausoleum of Augustus,  it was necessary to either drag them or to move them on rollers to the construction site 700 m. away.
  • Most of the bombards for the fortification of Castel Sant’Angelo used about 90% of the bronze from the ceiling of the Pantheon’s portico, ordered melted down by Pope Urban VIII (1623 to 1644). The remaining amount was used by the Apostolic Camera for various other works. It is also said that the bronze was used by Bernini in creating his famous baldachin above the high altar of  Peter’s Basilica (however, one expert states that the bronze for the baldachin came from Venice).
  • The large bronze doors to the cella, once plated with gold, are ancient but not the original ones of the Pantheon. The current doors, manufactured too small for the 40 Roman ft. high door frames, have only been there since about the 15th century.
  • The height to the oculus (30 Roman feet in diameter) and the diameter of the interior circle are the same, 43.3 m. (145 Roman feet or 141 feet 8 inches), so the whole interior would fit exactly within a cube. In a similar note, the interior could house a sphere 43.3 m. in diameter. If the dome of the rotunda were flipped upside down it would fit perfectly inside the rotunda.
  • From the outside, the Pantheon appears rectangular in shape but it is only the first small room (cella) that has corners. The rotunda is completely round.
  • The Pantheon has no windows. The oculus, an engineering gem of the Roman world at the dome’s apex, and the entry door are the only natural sources of light in the interior.
  • Though often drawn as a free-standing building, the Pantheon abuts a building at its rear which helps buttress the rotunda but was no interior passage from one to the other.
  • The interior of the dome was possibly intended to symbolize the arched vault of the heavens. Throughout the day, the light from the oculus moves around this space in a reverse sundial effect.
  • The oculus, still lined with the original Roman bronze, also serves as a cooling and ventilation method. Never covered, rain falls into the interior and runs off the slightly convex floor to the still functioning Roman drainpipes underneath.
  • No oculus had even dared come close in size to the one in the Pantheon.
  • In 2013, the Pantheon was visited by over 6 million people.
  • Since the Renaissance the Pantheon has been used as a tomb. Among those buried there are the painters Raphael and Annibale Carracci, the composer Arcangelo Corelli, and the architect Baldassare Peruzzi. Two kings of Italy are also buried in the Pantheon: Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I, as well as Umberto’s Queen, Margherita.
  • The Pantheon is in use as a Catholic church. Masses are celebrated there on Sundays and holy days of obligation. Weddings are also held there from time to time.

Pantheon (8)

A state property, the Pantheon is ruled by Italy’s Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism through the Polo Museale del Lazio. The National Institute of Honor Guards to the Royal Tombs, founded in 1878, maintain the royal tombs and also organize picket guards at the tombs.

The dome and oculus

The dome and oculus

The 4,535 metric ton (4,999 short ton) Roman concrete dome is concentrated on a ring of 9.1 m. (30 ft.) diameter voussoirs  that form the oculus while the downward thrust of the dome is carried by 8 barrel vaults in the 6.4 m.(21 ft.) thick drum wall into eight piers.  The thickness of the dome varies from 6.4 m. (21 ft.) at the base of the dome to 1.2 m. (3.9 ft.) around the oculus. The material used in the concrete of the dome also varies.

Pantheon (3)

During the construction of the Pantheon, the most important problem the Romans faced was the massive weight of the large dome. To substantially reduced stresses in the dome, successively less dense aggregate stones in higher layers of the dome were used. At its thickest point, the aggregate is travertine, then terracotta tiles and, lastly, at the very top, where the dome would be at its weakest and vulnerable to collapse, tufa and pumice, both porous light stones. The elimination of the apex by means of the oculus actually lightened the load.

Pantheon ( 4)

The evenly spaced, difficult to achieve layout of the dome, featuring elegant sunken panels (coffers) in five rings of 28, is presumed to have symbolic meaning, either numerical, geometric, or lunar. In antiquity, the panels may have contained bronze stars, rosettes or other ornaments. Most likely, they were struck with a device that was exacted from floor level

Family (2)

Hidden chambers engineered within the rotunda formed a sophisticated structural system. The top of the rotunda wall features a series of brick relieving arches, visible on the outside and built into the mass of the brickwork.  Inside, there are relieving arches over the recesses, all hidden by marble facing on the interior and possibly by stone revetment or stucco on the exterior.

High Altar (1)

Half dome above the high altar

High altar

High altar

The present high altars and the apses inside were commissioned by Pope Clement XI (1700–1721) and designed by Alessandro Specchi.

A 7th-century Byzantine icon of the Virgin and Child, given by Phocas to Pope Boniface IV on the occasion of the dedication of the Pantheon for Christian worship on May 13, 609, is enshrined on the apse above the high altar. The choir, added in 1840, was designed by Luigi Poletti.

Madonna of the Girdle and St Nicholas of Bari (1686)

Madonna of the Girdle and St Nicholas of Bari (1686)

Annunciation (Melozzo da Forli)

Annunciation (Melozzo da Forli)

The first niche, to the right of the entrance, holds a Madonna of the Girdle and St Nicholas of Bari (1686) painted by an unknown artist. The Chapel of the Annunciation, the first chapel on the right, has a fresco of the Annunciation attributed to Melozzo da Forlì.

On the left side is a canvas of St Lawrence and St Agnes (1645–1650) by Clement Maioli. The Incredulity of St Thomas (1633), by Pietro Paolo Bonzi, is on the right wall. A 15th-century fresco of the Tuscan school, depicting the Coronation of the Virgin, is in the second niche.

St Lawrence and St Agnes (Clement Maioli)

St Lawrence and St Agnes (Clement Maioli)

Incredulity of St Thomas (1633, Pietro Paolo Bonzi)

Incredulity of St Thomas (1633, Pietro Paolo Bonzi)

Tomb of King Victor Emmanuel II

Tomb of King Victor Emmanuel II

In the second chapel, originally dedicated to the Holy Spirit and designed by Manfredo Manfredi, is the tomb of King Victor Emmanuel II who died in 1878.

Started in 1885, the tomb consists of a large bronze plaque, surmounted by a Roman eagle, and the arms of the house of Savoy.

The golden lamp above the tomb burns in honor of Victor Emmanuel III who died in exile in 1947.

The Roman eagle and the arms of the House of Savoy

The Roman eagle and the arms of the House of Savoy

St Anne and the Blessed Virgin (Il Lorenzone)

St Anne and the Blessed Virgin (Il Lorenzone)

The third niche has a sculpture of St Anne and the Blessed Virgin done by Il Lorenzone.  In the third chapel is The Madonna of Mercy between St Francis and St John the Baptist, a 15th-century painting of the Umbrian school, also known as the Madonna of the Railing, because it originally hung in the niche on the left-hand side of the portico where it was protected by a railing.

It was moved to the Chapel of the Annunciation and then, sometime after 1837, to its present position. The bronze epigram commemorated Pope Clement XI‘s restoration of the sanctuary.

The Madonna of Mercy between St Francis and St John the Baptist

The Madonna of Mercy between St Francis and St John the Baptist

St. Anastasio (Bernardino Cametti)

St. Anastasio (Bernardino Cametti)

On the right wall is the canvas Emperor Phocas presenting the Pantheon to Pope Boniface IV (1750) done by an unknown artist.

There are three memorial plaques in the floor, one commemorating a Gismonda written in the vernacular.

The final niche, on the right side, has a statue of St. Anastasio (1725) done by Bernardino Cametti.

Assumption (1638, Andrea Camassei) (2)

Assumption (1638, Andrea Camassei)

St Joseph and the Holy Child (Vincenzo de Rossi)

St Joseph and the Holy Child (Vincenzo de Rossi)

On the first niche to the left of the entrance is an Assumption (1638) done by Andrea Camassei. The Chapel of St Joseph in the Holy Land, the first chapel on the left, is the chapel of the Confraternity of the Virtuosi at the Pantheon referring to the confraternity of artists and musicians that was formed here by Desiderio da Segni, a 16th-century Canon of the church, to ensure that worship was maintained in the chapel.

The institution still exists but is now called the Academia Ponteficia di Belle Arti (The Pontifical Academy of Fine Arts), based in the Palace of the Cancelleria. The altar in the chapel, covered with false marble, has a statue of St Joseph and the Holy Child done by Vincenzo de Rossi.

Adoration of the Magi (Francesco Cozza)

Adoration of the Magi (Francesco Cozza)

Adoration of the Shepherds (Francesco Cozza)

Adoration of the Shepherds (Francesco Cozza)

The paintings Adoration of the Shepherds, on left side, and Adoration of the Magi on right were done in 1661 by Francesco Cozza, one of the Virtuosi.

The Dream of St Joseph, the stucco relief on the left, was done by Paolo Benaglia while Rest during the flight from Egypt, the one on the right, was done by Carlo Monaldi.

Stucco relief Dream of St Joseph (Paolo Benaglia)

Stucco relief Dream of St Joseph (Paolo Benaglia)

Rest during the flight from Egypt (Carlo Monaldi)

Rest during the flight from Egypt (Carlo Monaldi)

Bust of Baldassare Peruzzi

Bust of Baldassare Peruzzi

On the vault are several 17th-century canvases, from left. to right: Cumean Sibyl by Ludovico Gimignani; Moses by Francesco RosaEternal Father by Giovanni PeruzziniDavid by Luigi Garzi; and Eritrean Sibyl by Giovanni Andrea Carlone.

The second niche has a statue of St Agnes and Agnus Dei done by Vincenzo   Felici (1700). The bust on the left is a portrait of Baldassare Peruzzi, derived from a plaster portrait done by Giovanni Duprè.

St Agnes and Agnus Dei (1700, Vincenzo Felici)

St Agnes and Agnus Dei (1700, Vincenzo Felici)

Tomb of King Umberto I and Margherita of Savoy

Tomb of King Umberto I and Margherita of Savoy

The next chapel, opposite the tomb of King Victor Emmanuel II, is the tomb of Umberto I and his wife Margherita di Savoia. Originally dedicated to St Michael the Archangel and then to St. Thomas the Apostle, the present design is by Giuseppe Sacconi and completed, after his death, by his pupil Guido Cirilli.

It consists of a slab of alabaster mounted in gilded bronze and a frieze with allegorical representations of Generosity, by Eugenio Maccagnani, and Munificence, by Arnaldo Zocchi. The altar with the royal arms is by Cirilli.

Generosity (Eugenio Maccagnani)

Generosity (Eugenio Maccagnani)

Munificence (Arnaldo Zocchi)

Munificence (Arnaldo Zocchi)

Bust of the painter Raphael (Giuseppe Fabris)

Bust of the painter Raphael (Giuseppe Fabris)

The third niche, with the inscription on the sarcophagus Ossa et cineres (“Bones and ashes”), holds the mortal remains of the great artist Raphael while to the right of his sarcophagus is that of his fiance, Maria Bibbiena who died before they could marry.

The sarcophagus, given by Pope Gregory XVI, has an epigraph, written by Pietro Bembo, that reads ILLE HIC EST RAPHAEL TIMUIT QUO SOSPITE VINCI / RERUM MAGNA PARENS ET MORIENTE MORI (“Here lies Raphael, by whom the mother of all things (Nature) feared to be overcome while he was living, and while he was dying, herself to die”).

Tomb of Raphael

Tomb of Raphael

Madonna del Sasso (1524, Lorenzetto)

Madonna del Sasso (1524, Lorenzetto)

The present arrangement, designed by Antonio Munoz, is from 1811. The bust of Raphael (1833) was done by Giuseppe Fabris.

The two plaques commemorate Maria Bibbiena and Annibale Carracci. Behind the tomb is the statue, commissioned by Raphael and made by Lorenzetto in 1524, known as the Madonna del Sasso (Madonna of the Rock) so named because she rests one foot on a boulder.

Chapel of the Crucifixion

Chapel of the Crucifixion

St. Rasius (1727, Francesco Moderati)

St. Rasius (1727, Francesco Moderati)

The Roman brick wall is visible in the niches of the Chapel of the Crucifixion. The wooden crucifix on the altar is from the 15th century.

On the left wall is a Descent of the Holy Ghost (1790), done by Pietro Labruzi, while on the right side is the low relief Cardinal Consalvi presents to Pope Pius VII the five provinces restored to the Holy See (1824) made by the Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen. The bust is a portrait of Cardinal Agostino Rivarola. The final niche on this side has a statue of St. Rasius (S. Erasio) (1727) done by Francesco Moderati.

Chapel of the Madonna of Mercy

Chapel of the Madonna of Mercy

Statue of Archangel Gabriel

Statue of Archangel Gabriel

The unifying theme of the ecclesiastical interior design, a striking synthesis of tradition and innovation which contrasts with the temple’s structural design, is circles and squares. The checkerboard marble floor pattern, still the ancient Roman original, consists of a series of geometric patterns which contrast with the concentric circles of square coffers in the dome.

From floor to ceiling, each interior decorative zone is subdivided according to a different scheme and, as a result, do not line up. Even though the cylindrical space, topped by a hemispherical dome, is inherently ambiguous, the overall effect is immediate viewer orientation according to the major axis of the building. This discordance has not always been appreciated.  In fact, in the 18th century, the attic level was redone according to Neo-Classical taste.

Pantheon: Piazza della Rotonda, 00186 Rome, Italy. Tel: +39 06 68300230. Open Mondays to Saturdays, 9 AM – 6.30 PM, and Sundays, 9 AM –1 PM. There is no admission charge and no security screening.

How to Get There: You have to walk to get there as the narrow streets where you find the Pantheon are far too narrow for buses. By bus, get off at the Trevi Fountain stop then walk for 5 mins. There is also no Metro station nearby.Take Line A, stop at Barberini station and then walk for about 10 mins.

Tin Hau Temple (Hong Kong)

Tin Hau Temple

The peaceful Tin Hau Temple, at the western end of Stanley Main St, past a tiny Tai Wong shrine and through the Stanley Plaza shopping complex, stands on a highly propitious Feng Shui site next to Starbucks and McDonald’s on Stanley Promenade in Stanley. The walk going there was worthwhile for the sea views.

Censer (incense burner)

Founded by 1767, it is said to be the oldest building in Hong Kong. In 1942, during the Japanese attack on Stanley, two Japanese bombs hit the temple but did not explode, miraculously saving the crowds of people sheltering there. Since then, the temple has undergone a complete renovation but its interior is still traditional.

There are over 70 temples dedicated to Tin Hau in Hong Kong and this unusually designed temple is, of course, a dedicated place of worship for the goddess of the sea.

It has nearly 20 other eminent gods and goddesses (including Guanyin, Che Kung, Wong Tai Sin, Guan Yu and Hung Shing) uniquely arranged on a bench around the walls, with the goddess Tin Hau in the of center. The temple is especially busy on the 23rd of the 3rd lunar month, the birthday of the goddess.

Wall lined with deities

No visit to Tin Hau Temple is complete without a look at the genuine tiger skin hanging on the wall, said to frighten off evil spirits. Said to weigh 240 pounds, it is 73 inches long and 3 feet high.  In the 1940s, this tiger appeared in Stanley when the local villagers were celebrating with performances of Chinese Opera.

It was shot by Mr Rur Singh, an ethnic Indian policeman, in front of Stanley Police Station in 1942. Singh  presented the skin to the villagers and, since then, it has been exhibited in the Tin Hau Temple for more than half a century.

Tin Hau Temple: 119 Stanley Main St., Stanley, Hong Kong.

How to Get There: From Central’s Exchange Square, take buses No.6, 6A, 6X, 260 or 262. From Causeway Bay’s Tang Lung Street (Corner of Percival Street and Hennessy Road), take green minibus No.40

 

Thien Hau Pagoda (Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam)

Thien Hau Pagoda

Thien Hau Pagoda

After our lunch at Pho 24, we continued with the afternoon leg of our day-long city tour, first dropping by the beautiful Thien Hau Temple, one of Cholon district’s (Chinatown) most popular and most active  pagodas, located right on very busy Nguyen Trai Street.  The temple, also known as Chua Ba Thien Hau (literally means “Pagoda of the Lady of the Sea”), was originally built in 1760 (the oldest Chinese temple in Saigon) by the Cantonese Congregation as an expression of gratitude by Chinese immigrants coming from Tue Thanh Province, Quang Dong, for Thien Hau’s protection during their initial trip to Saigon by sea.

Thien Hau Pagoda (2)

All the materials used for its construction were brought from China. The pagoda was then continuously restored in 1800, 1842, 1882, 1890 and 1916.  On July 1, 1993, the pagoda was recognized as a National Architectural and Art Monument.

Wooden model of a Chinese theater

Wooden model of a Chinese theater above the entrance

The deity Thien Hau, , the goddess of the sea and protector of sailors and fishermen (also known as Tuc Goi La Ba and Mazu, is a traditional Chinese goddess who is not specifically Buddhist or Taoist. Revered by seafaring cultures, she has the ability to travel over the sea, on a mat or the clouds, to wherever she pleases, to protect or rescue stranded seafarers on the high seas. This very popular goddess’ temples are included on so many tour-group itineraries in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

The inner courtyard

The inner courtyard

The pagoda houses over 400 meticulously crafted antiques including seven god statues, six stone statues, nine stone steles, two small bells, four copper censers produced in 1886, one stone censor, 10 horizontal lacquered boards, 23 parallel sentences and others.

A fire pit for burning money, paper clothes or gifts to send to ancestors

A fire pit for burning money, paper clothes or gifts to send to ancestors

Large incense brazier

Large incense brazier

We entered the temple by entering an iron gate and then crossing a small, partially covered courtyard.  Though there are guardians on each side of the entrance, it is said that the real protectors of the pagoda are the two land turtles that live there. Lanterns and wooden models of Chinese theaters hang over the entrance.

Thien Hau Pagoda (41)

Thien Hau Pagoda (42)

The exposed portions of the courtyard contain large braziers, pots where burning joss sticks are placed. Near the braziers are two miniature wooden structures in which a small figure of Thien Hau is paraded, on the 23rd day of the third lunar month, around the nearby streets. To one side of the temple is an alcove containing a pool of fish, among which, is a giant.

Porcelain dioramas at the roof

Porcelain dioramas at the roof

Above the roof line of the interior courtyard are remarkable friezes decorated with small, delicately fashioned porcelain ceramic figurines manufactured by two famous pottery kilns (Buu Nguyen and Dong Hoa)) in 1908, all elaborate dioramas that express whimsical themes from Chinese religion, customs (such as “fighting in an arena”, “kowtow before ancestor’s altar”, etc.) and legends. In one scene, actors depict a duel on horseback between the revered, halberd-wielding general Guan Yu (of the epic novel Three Kingdoms) and another fighter.

Thien Hau Pagoda (88)

Thien Hau Pagoda (90)

Another scene depicts the three Taoist sages representing longevity, fecundity and prosperity. They also show scenes from a 19th-century Chinese city, including such colorful figures as actors, demons,  dragons, turtles, Persian and European sailors and traders, musicians playing instruments, couples conversing on balconies, wise old men in earnest discussion and even a white crane, seated on a rocky ledge, loping past people.

Altar of Thien Hau

Altar of Thien Hau

The three statues of the goddess Thiên Hậu

The three statues of the goddess Thiên Hậu

At the end of this gorgeous pagoda’s courtyard is the altar dominated by the three statues of the goddess Thiên Hậu on the main dais. The statues, one behind the other, have bronze faces and multi-colored clothes and crowns. Incense burners are all about, filling the open area with swirling pale white smoke and the pungent aroma of burning incense.  The three figures of Thien Hau are all flanked by two servants or guardians, one can see very far while the other can hear very well.

Thien Hau Pagoda (20)

Of special note is a scale model boat, to the right, that commemorates the first Chinese arriving from Canton. On the far right is the goddess Long Mau (protector of mothers and infants) while to the left of the dais is Thien Hau’s bed.

Thien Hau Pagoda (70)

The pagoda also has alcoves dedicated to other Chinese gods such as the Money God (it is said that good luck in doing business will be granted after some money is offered to him), Meh Sanh (the goddess of fertility) and the Mermaid. Several women were busy lighting bundles of incense sticks and then praying within the alcove at the rear of the temple.

Thien Hau Pagoda (65)

While the Thien Hau Pagoda isn’t the largest or most elaborate in the city, it is most popular, with worshippers from the local Chinese community and visitors, for its dozens of large amazing coils of incense suspended from the ceiling rafters over the main worship area, in front of the altar of Thien Hau. Some are quite large, with a diameter of more than a meter, and can burn for upwards of a month.

Conical incense coils with red tags

Conical incense coils with red tags

IncensIncense urnse urns

All coils are attached with a red tag with prayers that get sent when the incense burns out at the top of the coil. For luck, good health and good business fortune, the buyer’s name is written on the prayer tag after an incense coil or bundle is purchased. With a small donation to the pagoda, you can have your own coil lit and hung. Several people inside and outside sell incense, with 20,000 VND enough to purchase a large quantity.

Thien Hau Pagoda (25)

Thien Hau Pagoda (26)

Thien Hau Pagoda, probably the finest largest and most popular pagoda in Saigon and easily one of the most favorite tourist destinations in the city,is a valuable work of history, architecture and sculpture as well as an important religious site of the city’s Chinese-Vietnamese community. It truly has an atmosphere of otherworldly reverence owing to the smoking coils of swirling incense hanging from the room and majestic interior and furnishings. When visiting, be sure to keep an eye out for (bring binoculars) the intricate porcelain dioramas that decorate the beautiful roof.

L-R: our guide, Kyle, Grace and Cheska

L-R: our guide, Kyle, Grace and Cheska

Thien Hau Pagoda (93)

Thien Hau Pagoda: 710 Nguyen Trai St., District 5, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.  Open daily, 8 AM -4:30 PM. Admission is free but, if you wish to give something towards the building’s preservation, there is a donation box inside. It will cost 5,000 VND to park.

Jade Emperor Pagoda (Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam)

Jade Emperor Pagoda

Jade Emperor Pagoda

From the War Remnants Museum, we again boarded our van for the Jade Emperor Pagoda, one of the more colorful temples in HCMC, hidden in a small street, between high buildings. The facade of the Jade Emperor Pagoda is made with brick painted in pink and had exquisite and elaborate woodcarvings on tablets decorated with gilded Chinese characters. Its very striking and unique YinYang-shaped roofs are also works of art, with characteristic sharp peaks and sprinkled with numerous sculptures of dragons (the symbol of the divine) and completed with structures of red wood bound with elaborate, green-colored ceramic tiles.

The pagoda gate

The pagoda gate

Built from 1892 to 1909 by the Cantonese (Quang Dong) Congregation from Guanzhou, this spectacularly atmospheric pagoda (Vietnamese: Chùa Ngọc Hoàng; official name: Ngọc Hoàng Điện) is dedicated to various Taoist and Buddhist gods, especially to the supreme Taoist god Ngoc Hoang (the Jade Emperor or King of Heaven), the emperor monitoring entry through the gates of heaven by deciding who will enter and who will be refused. Originally known as Pagoda Ngoc Hoang, this pagoda was renamed in 1984 as Pagoda Phuoc Hai Tu (“Luck Sea Temple”), a new Chinese name which it still retains to this day.

A small shrine with a safe

A small shrine with a steel safe

We entered the temple via Phuoc Hai Tu, the only door to the temple, passing under a red porch into a courtyard where we were greeted by a huge banyan tree, after which we passed a small shrine with a steel safe (a reminder that, though admission is free, donations are accepted). Within the courtyard are benches for sitting.

The incinerator

The incinerator

To the left of the entrance to the Jade Emperor pagoda is the so-called incinerator, a chimney-shaped structure where believers burn offerings of paper. According to religious beliefs, smoke from the burning paper reaches the ancestors and deceased in heaven.

The pagoda courtyard

Grace, Cheska and our guide at the pagoda courtyard

Jade Emperor Pagoda (41)

Jade Emperor Pagoda (42)

To the right of the entrance is the shelter for hundreds of turtles (the temple is also called thePagoda of Turtles” or “Tortoise Pagoda”). Turtles, in Asian culture, represent longevity.  In Vietnam, they are also considered as a symbol of fortune and good luck.

Turtle pond

Turtle pond

Kyle's close encounter with a land turtle

Kyle’s close encounter with a land turtle

In decorating the pagoda, the Cantonese community was inspired by many Buddhist legends and myths. The pagoda is filled with towering and really impressive statues, made with wood and reinforced papier mâché, of phantasmal divinities and grotesque heroes which represent characters from both the Buddhist and Taoist traditions.

The Jade Emperor

The Jade Emperor

Undoubtedly, the best of the Jade Emperor Pagoda is in the main building. Beside impressive carved wooden doors with human and divine figures, to the right, is Mon Quan, the God of the Gate while opposite him is Tho Than (Tho Dia), the God of the Land.

Guardian of the door of the Jade Emperor Pagoda

Mon Quan, the God of the Gate

Jade Emperor Pagoda (47)

Against the wall are two 4 m. high, especially fierce and menacing figures of demons flanking the main sanctuary, both guardians of the gate. On the right (as you face the altar) is the statue the general who defeated the Green Dragon (depicted underfoot), while on the left is the general who defeated the White Tiger (which is also being stepped on).

The general who defeated the Green Dragon

The general who defeated the Green Dragon

Straight on is an altar on which are Phat Mau Chuan De, who gave birth to the five Buddhas of the cardinal directions; Dia Tang Vueng Bo Tat (Ksitigartha), the King of Hell; the Di Lac Buddha (Maitreya), the Buddha of the Future; Quan The Am Bo Tat; and a portrait of the Thich Ca Buddha. Behind the altar, is the Duoc Su Buddha, or Nhu Lai Buddha.

The altar of  Phat Mau Chuan De

The altar of Phat Mau Chuan De

The air inside is thick with the pungent smell of incense smoke from burning joss sticks. Presiding over the main sanctuary is the Jade Emperor Ngoc Hoang (easily recognizable by its large mustache typical of Cantonese culture), draped in luxurious robes, flanked by his guardians, the Four “Big Diamonds” (Tu Dai Kim Cuon). They are so named because they are said to be as hard as diamonds.

Four Big Diamonds (Tu Dai Kim Cuong)

Four Big Diamonds (Tu Dai Kim Cuong)

In front of the Jade Emperor, on the left, is Bac Dau, the Taoist God of the Northern Polar Star and Longevity, flanked by his two guardians; and, on the right, is Nam Tao, the Taoist God of the Southern Polar Star and Happiness, also flanked by two guardians. To the right of the Jade Emperor is 18-armed Phat Mau Chuan De.

Jade Emperor Pagoda (19)

On the wall to her right is Dai Minh Vuong Quang,reincarnated as Sakyamuni. Below are the Tien Nhan (the ‘God Persons’). To the left of the Jade Emperor sits Ong Bac De, one of his reincarnations. On the wall, to the left of Ong Bac De, is Thien Loi, the God of Lightning, who slays evil people. Below him are the military commanders of Ong Bac De and Thien Loi’s guardians. At the top of the two carved pillars that separate the three alcoves are the Goddess of the Moon and God of the Sun.

Guardian demon of the Hall of the Ten Hells

Guardian demon of the Hall of the Ten Hells

We then went out a door, on the left-hand side of the Jade Emperor’s chamber, to another room. To the right is a semi-enclosed area presided over by Thanh Hoang, the Chief of Hell, while to the left is his life-sized effigy of red horse. Closest to Thanh Hoang are Am Quan, the God of Yin, and Duong Quan, the God of Yang. The other four figures, the Thuong Thien Phat Ac, are gods who dispense punishments for evil acts and rewards for good deeds.

Hall of the Ten Hells

Hall of the Ten Hells

Thanh Hoang faces in the direction of the Hall of the Ten Hells, usually filled with the smoke of incense sticks as well as multitude of candles, fruit offerings and lucky money. Ten interesting and magnificently carved wooden panels, lining the walls on the sides of the room, represent the 1,000 torments or storms awaiting evil people in each of the Ten Regions of Hell.  Each panel is topped with a representation of a King of Hell perusing a book that details the very evil acts perpetuated by the dead. This depiction of the horrors awaiting the ungodly is the equivalent of “Judgment Day” in Chinese mythology.

Quan Am Thi Kinh on a lotus blossom holding her “son.”

Quan Am Thi Kinh on a lotus blossom holding her “son.”

On the wall opposite Thanh Hoang is a wood panel depicting Quan Am Thi Kinh on a lotus blossom holding her “son.” To her left is her protector Long Nu while to her right is her guardian spirit Thien Tai. To the right of the panel of Quan Am Thi Kinh is a panel depicting Dia Tang Vuong Bo Tat, the King of Hell.

Kim Hoa Thanh Mau

Kim Hoa Thanh Mau

Facing the Chief of Hell, on the other side of the wall, is a fascinating little room with ceramic figures of 12 women wearing colorful clothes, overrun with many babies and sitting in two rows of six. They are presided over by Kim Hoa Thanh Mau, the Chief of All Women and the protector of all mothers and children. Each figurine exemplifies a particular human characteristic, either good or bad (as in the case of the woman drinking alcohol from a jug), and also represents a year in the 12-year Chinese astrological calendar. Childless Vietnamese couples often visit this small chapel to pray to be granted a child. Off to the right of the main chamber, stairs lead to a second floor sanctuary and balcony.

Figurines of 6 women in a row with babies

Figurines of 6 women in a row with babies

The rather interesting Jade Emperor Pagoda, a lovely and quiet place of worship, is a gentle and exotic little spot full of character. I liked looking at all these rather nasty and mean statues (they may scare very young children!) but also liked seeing the young and old local worshippers who came to pray, make offerings and burn incense. Set within a calm leafy courtyard with a rare spiritual glow, this island of tranquility in the sea of frenetic activity that is HCMC is definitely worth a look.

A pagoda worshipper

A pagoda worshiper

Jade Emperor Pagoda: 73 Mai Thi Luu Street, District 1Ho Chi Minh CityVietnam. Tel: +84 8 3820 3102.  It is open daily, 6 AM – 6 PM.

How to Get There: City buses 36 And 54 stop in the vicinity of the pagoda. Bus 36 leaves from the Ben Thanh bus station (just opposite Ben Thanh Market) and stops along Tran Quang Khai Street while bus 54 departs from the Mien Dong bus station and stops closest to the pagoda along Vo Thi Sau Street.

Royal Palace and Phimeanakas Temple

The steep-sided, pyramid-like Phimeanakas Temple

The steep-sided, pyramid-like Phimeanakas Temple

Phimeanakas (“celestial temple”), a Hindu temple in the Khleang art style, is located close to the center of a 5 m. high walled enclosure that once housed the the Royal Palace of Angkor Thom (its tallest scalable temple).  Located north of Baphuon, it was built during the reign of Rajendravarman (from 941-968).  It was then rebuilt, in the shape of a 3-tiered, steep-sided pyramid (a representation of Mt. Meru), by Suryavarman II.

Jandy climbing the narrow wooden stairway to the top

Jandy climbing the narrow wooden stairway to the top

The top of this rectangular pyramid, made with laterite and roughly hewn sandstone, originally had a tower which, according to Chinese scholar Zhou Daguan, was crowned with a golden pinnacle.  The edge of the upper terrace had galleries.with windows and balusters, a unique architectural feature

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Gallery at upper terrace

Artistically uninteresting, most of its decorative features are broken or have disappeared and there are only hints of its former splendor. Still, Jandy, Violet and I clambered up, via a narrow wooden stairway at the back, to get to the second and third levels. Here, we had good views of nearby Baphuon.

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Hints of its former splendor

Hints of its former splendor

According to legend, the king spent the first watch of every night in the tower to make love to a woman thought to represent a nāga. During that time, not even the queen was permitted to intrude.  However, during the second watch,  the king would return to his palace and the queen. If the naga, the supreme land owner of Khmer land, did not show up for a night, the king’s days would be numbered.  If the king did not show up, a certain disaster  would strike his kingdom.

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Interior of gallery at upper terrace

The royal palace’s construction was began by Rajendravarman II.  Fronted to the east by the Terrace of Elephants, it was used by Jayavarman V and Udayadityavarman I and later added to and embellished by Jayavarman VII and his successors. Except for two sandstone pools (once the site of royal ablutions), located near the northern wall, very little remains of the royal palace.

Osang and I at what remains of the tower

Violet and I at what remains of the tower

Bantay Kdei (Siem Reap, Cambodia)

Banteay Kdei (meaning “Citadel of Chambers”), located southeast of Ta Prohm and 3 kms. east of Angkor Thom, was used as a Buddhist monastery and was built with soft sandstone from the middle of the 12th century to the beginning of the 13th century by king Jayavarman II. Changes and additions account for Banteay Kdei’s unbalanced layout. Many of its galleries and porches have collapsed and the wall enclosing the temple was built with reused stones. At least two different art periods, Angkor Wat and Bayon, are discernible at Banteay Kdei.

Banteay Kdei

Banteay Kdei

The elements of its original design seem to have been a central sanctuary, a surrounding gallery and a passageway connected to another gallery. The original features of the temple were enclosed by a moat. During the Bayon Period, another enclosure and two libraries were added. The 700 by 500 m. (2,297 by 1,640 ft.) outer enclosure, made with laterite, has 4 entry towers.

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The name “Hall of the Dancing Girls,” a rectangular courtyard to the east, was  derived from the decoration which includes dancers. The second enclosure’s cross-shaped entry tower has three passages.  The two on either end are connected to the literate wall of the enclosure by 200 scrolls of figures and large female divinities in niches. The interior court has a frieze of Buddha.

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A causeway, built at a later date, is bordered by serpents and leads to the third enclosure’s entry tower. It comprises a laterite wall and includes a gallery with a double row of sandstone pillars that open onto a courtyard. Parts of this area have been walled in and passage is limited.

P1210362P1210363Vestiges of the wooden ceiling can still be seen in the central sanctuary. The galleries and halls, which join it in a cross to the four entry towers, are probably additions. Two libraries open to the west in the courtyards on the left and right of the causeway.