Taiwan Fun Magazine, September 2006


Restoring glory to SanXia Old Street

--Article by Chen Jing Hsiung
Photos by Chen Jing Hsiung and Yang Chih Hsiung
Translated by Sho Huang

The recently-renovated, 100-meter-or-so SanXia Old Street remains a corridor of red-bricked Baroque style, three-arched rooftops. Over the past two years (2004-2006), a program to renovate the old street's houses has started to show satisfying results, winning the 2006 National Outstanding Construction and National Environmental Culture Award after a lengthy process of communicating and negotiating with old-home residents and local government assistance. The program also won the Top Prize for Excellence in Environmental Culture category.

The ups and downs of MinQuan Old Street and SanXia
SanXia Old Street started becoming popular during the Qing Dynasty. During the Japanese colonial era, MinQuan Old Street was completely destroyed, while SanXia district became prosperous through the production and sale of tea, camphor, timber and coal. Since then, MinQuan Old Street has been slowly reconstructed.
In 1915, the newly assigned Japanese official in SanXia decided to re-plan the streets because they were narrow and of various sizes. In addition, there were no gutters, which was a public health concern. As a result, in 1916, the hallways and parts of the interior architecture were redone with bricks, which form the old street appearance we see today.
The entire, 260-meter MinQuan Old Street, with 100 old houses on both sides, has become the hub of business.


The history of the old street
SanXia and MinQuan old streets, previously known as "SanJiaoYong Street", has been an important gathering point for business since the Qing Dynasty, with various goods being collected here to be bought and sold.
At its peak, a variety of shops and establishments could be found here, including dye shops, a hospital (behind XinLong Temple), a hand-made paper shop, barber shop, funeral shop, and Chinese medicine shop. In addition, railroad track ran through the area. QingShui Temple and ZaiShu Temple were also the religious centers at that time.
The inscriptions on the old street's houses indicates individual household's last names, business types, and store names. Inscribed boards, hung inside shops, usually indicated a store's names or last names of the shop owners, which was a common way of promoting business at that time.
The images and figures decorating the walls have special meanings. For example, a vase represents peace. BaGua (a Chinese Taoist symbol) is meant to ward off evil. The main material for the building facades along old street houses was brick, while interior walls were made with mud. Although the old street has undergone new construction work, mud bricks are still used in much of the old-style architecture.
The DaHan River helped SanXia's rise but slowly silted up with sand and mud, while a lot of water was diverted into the ShiMen Dam, as SanXia's old streets gradually lost their charm and faded into the history. In 1933, SanXia Arch Bridge was completed as part of a new road-based transport network between SanXia, BanQiao and Taipei, marking an end to the DanHan River era. As a result, SanXia was quickly forgotten.

The rebirth of the old street, renovated old street carries on historical glory
It hasn't been an easy task to renovate and yet maintain the old streets' original appearance, taking 20 years of negotiation and communication work to complete. In 1991, MinQuan Old Street was listed by the government as a Third Class Historical Site. Although the local residents' attitudes toward the old streets were divided between those who wanted to preserve them and those who wanted to tear them down, the former perspective won out in the end, after years of local government persuasion. The Council of Culture Affairs funded the project while Taipei county government's Planning and Housing Development Bureau adopted an "Original Architecture, Original Material" policy to repair the buildings, keeping the famous arched-ceiling hallways and original wood architecture.
The whole renovation project was divided into two sections supervised by the government and local residents. In the beginning, there were only 49 houses on the renovation list. Through continuous communication, the number of houses reached 94, making up 95 percent of houses in the whole area. The encouraging result was that the project won a 2006 National Outstanding Construction and Environment Culture Festival award. What's more, the government-supervised section was finished in July, 2006. The other section is expected to be done at the end of this year as well, allowing the old streets to greet visitors with a new-yet-historic look.


SanJiaoYong old street district includes buildings with arched rooftops, resembling Baroque style, in rows and the buildings are among those, which have been preserved for historical value. Taking both the preservation of the old streets and practical reasons into consideration, the whole project focuses on renovating the streets' look and electrical cable underground two concepts. The first stage was to preserve the traditional architecture appearance while the second stage allowed residents to construct homes overhead, including four-floor buildings (about 15 meters high). MinQuan Road and roads around the area are covered with stone slabs preserved for pedestrian sidewalks. Man-hole covers as well as the house number plates, are all specially designed to match a vintage look. Overall, these efforts are is expected to bring more business to this area.

The entire project, adopting a policy of renovating to maintain original appearances, can be seen in the roofs, wooden floors, and straightening of rooflines and strengthening of building structures and windows.
SanXia's old streets are made up of red bricks, washed-up stones and expensively-decorated home facades in a classic architecture that dates back before the 1923 GuanDong earthquake. During the end of 19th century, Japanese colonial period, red bricks became main material of the construction and imitation Baroque and Greco-Roman column structure were a trendy style.
The renovated shops on Old street still keep the hallways and red-brick rooftops , decorated with various figures and shapes, such as the lotus, dragon and lion. Shop names are inscribed in the center of the signboard hung under the roof. There is one single pillar in the first floor and fan-shaped windows on the second floor, while rooftops are all in Baroque style. All the old architecture reflects the culture and history of SanXia. Besides the very old structures, wandering on the street will also bring you to shops that are easily more than 100 years old.

Rejuvenating old streets with the indigo dye industry
Indigo dyeing is an ancient traditional craft. SanXia has the natural advantage of producing plants like the "dajing" plant from which dye can be extracted, and the DaHan River. As a result, MinQuan Old Street, adjacent to the river, became an indigo dyeing handicraft center. Today, for only NT$200, you can learn to tie-dye with clips, rubber bands and cotton string to create your own dyed T-shirt or handkerchief.
If you get a chance to visit SanXia and stroll its old streets, a visit to ZhuShi Temple, antique hunting and learning to tie-dye can all be added to your cultural experience list.