Ask any tourist, and you’ll find that one of Singapore’s most noticeable attribute is our diversity. With such a varied and multicultural society, Singapore provides both residents and tourists the opportunity to indulge in a myriad of cuisines, cultures, languages and backgrounds. However, as locals, we don’t always take advantage of this diversity and explore the island country quite far enough.
In fact, Singapore has been found to be the world’s most religiously diverse nation. Buddhists form the majority, followed by Christians, Muslims, Taoists and folk religion followers and Hindus. This diversity has also resulted in religious faiths mixing, resulting in a temple that is dedicated to three religions!
To celebrate this religious diversity and culture, we have put together a list of the ten most interesting temples, churches, mosques, synagogues and monasteries that are worth visiting in Singapore.
Located in the middle of Chinatown is Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple, built in 1827. As the name suggests, this Hindu temple is dedicated to Goddess Mariamman, who is the Goddess of Rain as well as curing illnesses and diseases. Her powers of rainmaking and healing make her one of the main goddesses of the people of Tamil Nadu.
The temple gopuram or tower, located at the main entrance of Sri Mariamman Temple, is built in Dravidian style with bright colours depicting gods, animals and other embellishments. Gopurams in this type of architecture have a unique style – each successive or higher tier is shorter in length than the preceding tier, giving the tower an illusion of added height.
Closer look at the sculptures.
This style continues inside the temple, which has a number of shrines and halls dedicated to various gods and goddesses. All these traits make Sri Mariamman the prime place in Singapore for a glimpse of trademark Dravidian temple art.
Address: Sri Mariamman Temple, 244 South Bridge Road, Singapore 058793
Located between St. Andrew’s Road and North Bridge Road, Singapore’s largest cathedral is built in the Neo-Gothic style of architecture. Completed in 1861 and declared a National Monument in 1973, St Andrew’s Cathedral is dedicated to the patron saint of Scotland, Saint Andrew, in honour of the Scots who funded it.
It is said that the cathedral was inspired by the Netley Abbey – a ruined 13th century church in Hampshire, UK. Another really interesting fact is that the church was built by Hindu prisoners from India and the land was leased to the church by prominent Muslim trader, Syed Omar Aljunied. Racial harmony at work!
Address: St Andrew’s Cathedral, 11 St Andrew’s Road, Singapore 178959
The oldest church in Singapore, the Armenian Church is located on Hill Street and dedicated to the first Armenian monk, St Gregory the Illuminator. The church opened in 1836 to cater to a small group of Armenian residents here in Singapore. Since then, it has undergone a few renovations and was declared a National Monument in 1973.
While the church is built in the British neo-classical style, certain elements have been included with the Singaporean climate in mind. Wide verandahs, windows that provide cross-ventilation, and woven rattan pews are just some of the non-traditional additions to combat our tropical heat. The complex also includes beautiful grounds and a parsonage house.
Surrounded by a peaceful garden and ornate architecture, there is something calming about this church. If you need a breather from the busy Orchard Road, head up here.
Address: Armenian Church, 60 Hill Street, Singapore 179366
Also known as the Temple of Heavenly Happiness, this is the oldest and most important Taoist Hokkien temple dedicated to Ma Zu, the Goddess of the Sea, to pray for protection. Built between 1839 and 1842, Thian Hock Kheng Temple was declared a national monument in 1973, and has gone through a number of renovations, helping it win some awards.
Amazingly, this temple was built with a grand total of zero nails. Guess the builders really nail-ed it in the building process. Even without any iron, the temple is still an architectural masterpiece of amazing carvings, intricate sculptures and imposing columns.
Address: Thian Hock Keng, 158 Telok Ayer Street, Singapore 068613
An aerial view of Masjid Sultan. Source
Nestled in the beautiful area of Kampong Glam, the Sultan Mosque’s golden tower rises and reflects the sunlight off the dome rendering the mosque a grandeur presence.
The original mosque was built from 1824-1826 by Sultan Hussain Shah with $3,000 from the East India Company. The current mosque was built in 1928 with minor repairs and additions after. It was declared a National Monument in 1975.
During its reconstruction in 1928, Sultan Mosque caused North Bridge Road to be paved around it to be extended beyond Arab Street. Another interesting fact is that the two golden domes are adorned with the ends of glass bottles. The reason is that when the mosque was being built poor Muslims donated the glass bottle ends to signify that this was a mosque for both the rich and the poor.
Address: Sultan Mosque, 3 Muscat Street, Singapore 198833
The Jewish community in Singapore had a major issue in 1902. An increase in the number of Jews and differences in rituals between the various communities caused created a need for another place for worship. And thus, initiated by Jewish businessman and philanthropist Manassah Meyer, Chesed-El Synagogue was constructed.
Located in Oxley Rise, the Synagogue is truly simple and elegant, comprising features of the late-Renaissance style of architecture. Built in 1905 and renovated in 2016, the Synagogue was declared a National Monument in 1998.
Address: Chesed-El Synagogue, 2 Oxley Rise, Singapore 238693
This Buddhist temple is Singapore’s largest, located in Bishan and perhaps one of Singapore’s best-kept secrets. Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery covers a massive 75,000 square metres, or the equivalent of 10.7 football fields, making it the largest monastery in Singapore. Which means there’s ample space for you to lose yourself in the architecture and vibe of the temple.
One prominent feature of the temple is the Bodhi tree, which was brought from Sri Lanka as a sapling from a sacred Bodhi tree that was itself a sapling from where Lord Buddha is said to have achieved enlightenment. Another significant point of interest in the temple is one of Asia’s largest Buddhas, made of bronze 1.38 metres in height and 55 tons in weight.
Address: Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery, 88 Bright Hill Road, Singapore 574117
Of course every tourist and resident has heard of the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum. Built in 2007, this is the most recent temple to have been built – in this list, at least! Covering five floors, the temple is built in the Tang Dynasty style of Chinese Buddhist architecture.
As the name suggests, Lord Buddha’s left canine tooth is preserved in this temple in a huge stupa weighing 3500 kilograms. The outer room and the room that houses Lord Buddha’s tooth is truly spectacular and ornate with numerous avatars of Buddha, beautiful lamps and gold decorations galore. The temple also contains the Buddhist Culture Museum, the Sacred Light Hall, Eminent Sangha Museum and a spectacularly tranquil roof garden with a prayer wheel.
Address: Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum, 288 South Bridge Road, Singapore 058840
Inside the Sri Sivan temple. Source: @luc_luciano
Built in the early 1850s, the temple has moved several times – from Potong Pasir to Dhoby Ghaut, to Orchard Road to Serangoon, and has now finally found a home in Geylang. If you want to see a different type of Hindu temple, this is definitely worth a visit.
Address: Sri Sivan Temple, 24 Geylang East Avenue 2, Singapore 389752
This is the most interesting religious building in the list, as it is a temple that houses deities from three different religions – Tao, Buddhist, and Hindu. To make the complex even more confused, it also houses a Muslim kramat, or shrine, to honour a holy Muslim man.
The story goes that statues of three deities were found along the coast at Loyang Way, and these statues were later housed in a modest hut. A fire eventually destroyed the hut in 1996, and devotees donated enough for a new temple to be built in 2000. Finally in 2007, it was moved to its current location, 2km away from the previous location.
Go visit this temple for what it stands for, religious diversity in Singapore.
Address: Loyang Tua Pek Kong Temple, 20 Loyang Way, Singapore 508774
We are lucky to be living in or travelling to such a diverse country and the wonderful buildings mentioned here stand as a proud testament to that very end. Moreover, this is definitely not an exhaustive list. So as you explore or take in this city, look around and appreciate the architectural and religious history and culture. There are currently 72 National Monuments in Singapore of which 27 are religious buildings. Go visit all of them and it will give you a great sense of Singapore’s long and interesting history and culture.
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