A hundred years of glory: A stroll down culture-filled Sanxia Old Street
Words and photos by Cecilia Chang
Translated by Ann Lee
One of northern Taiwan's longest ancient roadways, Sanxia Old Street, features a 260-meter-long red-brick corridor lined with Baroque-style buildings and houses that have stood gloriously for close to 100 years.
In existence since the mid-18th century, Sanxia Old Street was formerly known as the "Triangular Surge". Japanese soldiers set fire to the entire street during Taiwan's cession to Japan in 1895. However, in 1916, Japanese colonial government transformed the street's appearance and architecture with the Baroque-style structures that are seen today. The old "Triangular Surge" name refers to the meeting of the Sanxia River, "Horizontal River" and Tahan River at this point. In 1920, the Japanese administration, while redefining the entire Taiwan administrative area, renamed this town as Sanxia, which also means "Three Gorges".
Today, Sanxia Old Street is also known as Minquan Street, and its shops regularly attract many tourists over weekends and holidays. It took the Taiwanese government three years and NT$300 million to renovate this historic area and today the beautiful combination of the Han (people) culture, Western-style buildings and "kamon" (Japanese family crests) are all part of the street, and one of the main reasons for its popularity among visitors. In fact, the success of the Sanxia Old Street renovation program was internationally recognized when it won the Spanish FIABCI Prix d' Excellence Award in 2007, as well as second-place honors at the FIABCI Prix d' Excellence Awards in the Public Sector/Specialized Category.
Sanxia's historic beginnings
At the start of the Qing dynasty, immigrants who had traveled by sea to start businesses in Taiwan settled in the upstream area of the Tahan River in Sanxia, and gradually formed a village of their own. This meant that the area near the "Horizontal River" and Sanxia and Tahan rivers became the earliest center for business development in Sanxia. The entire Sanxia region is quite large on its own and the crystal waters of the Sanxia River meant that clothing fabrics were transported from Danshuei River into this area for fabric-dyeing, which became a blossoming industry on Sanxia Old Street in those early days.
Soon after, these immigrants discovered that Sanxia's mountainous areas were also ideal for growing tea, and were home to natural resources such as abundant camphor trees. Thus, Sanxia residents began planting tea and producing camphor-related goods, and the three main local products in Sanxia became dyed fabrics, tea and camphor. During the Qianlong period of Qing dynasty, as the number of immigrants grew, area residents and their businesses formed the first "Triangular Surge" street. This became a business hub for local residents, who utilized the surrounding landscape and natural resources, transporting goods from Sanxia to other places around the island and even foreign countries. During the busiest, most properous period, as many as 60 boats docked per day as Sanxia Old Street bustled with people and commercial activity.
In 1895, when the Treaty of Shimonoseki was signed, handing Taiwan over to Japan, the Japanese soldiers landed and were opposed by local armed insurrectionists. As a result, hundreds of Japanese soldiers were killed and the Japanese army set fire to the street in revenge, destroying almost the entire village, as well as some of the temples in the area. This area was reconstructed during earlier days of the Japanese colonial era. After Taiwan's retrocession, this town was renamed Sanxia to reflect new administrative boundaries and policies.
The charm of renovated Sanxia Old Street
Even after so many years, Sanxia Old Street retains a unique charm and culture, particularly with its distinctive-looking architecture. Not only is it the longest vintage street in northern Taiwan, but it is also one of best-preserved, making it a historically valuable remnant of traditional Taiwan. The shops lining the street each have a number and the owner's name carved on a horizontal inscribed board--a unique feature here.
The houses here all come with differently shaped gables, with patterns representing different meanings; some residents use the "bagua" symbol to ward off evil while carved "floral vases" represent peace and safety. Many of these old dwellings still have inside walls made from earth. Notably, as you stroll along Sanxia Minquan Old Street, you'll see many distinct-looking rural houses with a so-called "Daughter's Wall" (or parapet)--a wall-like barrier at the edge of roofs, terraces and balconies, which transports people back to the days when Sanxia Old Street was at its pinnacle of glory.
The fact that the buildings were getting older and the population of this rural town was shrinking as many residents moved away made the street appear even more abandoned. However, some dedicated officials from the Council for Cultural Affairs and the Taipei County Government decided to devote their time and effort to preserving this historical site, with the goal of renovating Sanxia Minquan Old Street and making it the longest, best-preserved historic street among 172 old streets throughout Taiwan. Their efforts included successful efforts to invite shops and businesses to set up on this street.
When Sanxia Old Street was re-opened to the public at the start of 2007, it attracted over 60,000 people in a single day. With its exotic-looking architecture and unique shops, it now bursts with rich local culture, and a must-see destinations for foreign tourists interested in experiencing the charms of local culture.
Popular eats, unique shops on Old Street
When it comes to touring the street, one may wonder what specific shops are worth visiting and what are the best foods to sample. First, make a trip to the Sanxia Dyeing Factory to experience some family fun with indigo-dyeing DIY activities. Or visit the Bai Nian Pottery House to appreciate some interesting pottery artwork and creations. The Ming Yuan Handicraft Crystal Glaze is a classy-looking store for window shoppers, and the Dun Ping Ink Specialists stock special ink products, plus calligraphy brushes made from animal fur.
On weekends, visitors get the chance to check out "Cha Shan Fang", a 50-year-old store whose staff role-play nostalgic scenes from earlier times when vendors carried products over their shoulders in bags hung off of bamboo sticks. If you get tired from all the walking, try the Kang Xi Xuan Croissant Ice Cream. This unique treat, well worth trying, combines the refreshing flavors of ice cream with warm bread. Find your way to Changfu Street and you'll also see a place called Changfu Eatery, located next to the beautifully-constructed Qingshui Zushi Temple. When ordering food here, remember to try their signature Marinated Chicken and Braised Pork dish. The tea stand right next door sells sweet squash teas (NT$20) to finish off your meal nicely.
Before making your trip home, stop by the Hengxi Bird Egg Meatballs Shop, serving a local special delicacy made with the famous Changhua meatballs. Or stop by Uncle A-Lai's Handmade Bean Jelly Shop for some delicately-flavored local treats. Of course, coming to Sanxia means you can't go home without visiting another shop owned and operated by the local people--Fu Mei Xuan. This place offers warm oven-baked, crusty croissants that must not be passed up.
An artistic Eastern sanctuary: Qingshui Zushi Temple
The Qingshui Zushi Temple, Xing Long (Matsu) Temple and the Sanxia Church are among three of the best-preserved structures on Sanxia Old Street, and also illustrate the true co-existence of Eastern and Western cultures in this town. The Qingshui Zushi Temple was first built in 1769 but has been reconstructed three times since then. The first reconstruction took place in 1833 when it was destroyed in a big earthquake. Then, in the aftermath of the First Sino-Japanese War and the Treaty of Shimonoseki, rebellious Sanxia residents used the temple as a refuge camp, which was burnt down by the Japanese army and reconstructed for the second time in 1899. The third reconstruction took place in 1947 and became best-known as a masterpiece of renowned Taiwanese artist Li Mei-shu. This final reconstruction gave the temple a total of 156 columns, the highest number of columns for an Taiwan temple.
Another preservation landmark is Xing Long (Matsu) Temple, which has 200 years of history and is only a five-minute walk from the Zushi Temple. Built in 1782, it hosts many art and culture related festivities by its entrance on weekends.
Sanxia is an ancient, culture-filled town that offers visitors a historic destination filled with artistic attractions, not to mention Taiwan's finest old street for sightseeing and shopping. Thanks to a hundred years of glorious history, Sanxia Old Street offers plenty for the eyes, mind and soul.
|| Enjoying Sanxia's famous delicacies
◎Cha Shan Fang:
79, MinQuan St, Sanxia Township, Taipei County
◎Long Xin Cake Shop:
37, MinQuan St, Sanxia Township, Taipei County
◎Fu Mei Xuan Golden Croissants:
25, SinYi St, Sanxia Township, Taipei County
◎Kang Xi Xuan Croissant Ice Cream:
70, MinQuan St, Sanxia Township, Taipei County
◎Hengxi Meatballs Shop:
193, MinSheng St, Sanxia Township, Taipei County
◎Uncle A-Lai's Handmade Bean Jelly Shop:
149, MinSheng St, Sanxia Township, Taipei County
17, ChangFu St, Sanxia Township, Taipei County
By car: Take the Northern Second Freeway (Route 3) and get off at the Sanying Interchange. Drive straight along ZhongShan Road and make a right turn when you get to MinQuan Road. (Signs along the way point you to the right location.)
By public transportation: Take the HSR and get off at Banqiao Station. There, take the WenHua Road exit and walk on WenHua Road to the Xin (New) Banqiao Station (same side as Banqiao Station). Take bus 910, get off at the "Sanxia Elementary School" stop. From there it's a 5-minute walk to Sanxia Old Street. Or take bus 702 and get off at "Sanxia Old Street" or "Sanxia Elementary School" stops; from there it's also a 5-minute walk to the Sanxia Old Street. Or take Taipei Bus 703 (a regular bus you can take on the weekends) to Sanxia, get off at the second bus station, and it's about a 15-minute walk to Sanxia Old Street.
By MRT shuttle buses: Take shuttle bus 908 when you get off at Jingan Station, or, take bus 910 at Xinpu Station, 916 at Yongning Station, or get off at Banqiao Station and take the blue bus No.19. For all MRT shuttle buses, remember to get off at the "Sanxia Elementary School" stop. From there it's about a 5-minute walk to Sanxia Old Street.