Built between 1908 and 1913, the Hong San See temple was established by the Hokkien community in Singapore. Its name means “Temple on Phoenix Hill” in Chinese, and it is dedicated to Guang Ze Zun Wang, the God of Fortune.

Superbly restored
Carved dragon on the rooftop of Hong San See temple

Photo by Choo Yut Shing via Foter.com

The temple once enjoyed a view of the sea. Today, the many high-rise buildings that have sprung up around the temple have all but blocked it off, and only the long flight of stairs you have to climb reminds you that the structure is on high ground.

Still, its beautifully preserved architecture—a perfect example of southern Chinese style temple architecture—makes a visit worth your while.

The axial planning, courtyards, walled enclosures and beam-frame structure are all traditional features of this style, the last in particular shows exceptional carpentry, with a roof built entirely without nails.

Dancing dragons and phoenixes
Prayer area of Hong San See temple

Photo by Choo Yut Shing via Foter.com

Other highlights include the granite columns, exquisitely carved with dragons, peonies, magpies and phoenixes.

You’ll also notice 'chien nien' ornamentation and elaborate plaster relief work on the eaves and roof, in particular, the two dragons prancing with a pearl. 'Chien nien' is the Chinese art of creating figures, flowers and animals out of pieces of colourful porcelain.

The Hong San See temple was gazetted as a national monument in 1978. Today, it is in immaculate condition due to an extensive renovation from 2006 to 2010, with technical consultants and craftsmen brought in from China to undertake the restoration.

As a result, the temple was the first Singapore building to win an Award of Excellence in the 2010 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation.