National Palace Museum
An imposing complex of beige brick buildings, topped with green and imperial-yellow ceramic tile roofs, houses the National Palace Museum 1 [map] (Guoli Gugong Bowuguan; www.npm.gov.tw ; daily 8.30am–6.30pm). The main building is impressive, the treasures within unimaginable. Beside is a small but perfectly styled recreation of a Song dynasty Chinese garden called Zhishan Garden (Zhishan Yuan; Tue–Sun 7am–7pm; free with NPM ticket stub), well worth a stroll.
The museum displays some 6,000 works of art representing the zenith of 5,000 years of Chinese creativity. And these are just a fraction of the more than 700,000 paintings, porcelains, bronzes, rubbings, tapestries, books, and other objects stored in nearly 4,000 crates located in vaults tunneled into the mountain behind the museum.
The museum opened in 1965. But the history of its treasures, which reads like a John le Carré thriller, can be traced back more than 1,000 years, to the beginning of the Song dynasty (AD 960–1279). The founder of that dynasty established the Hanlin Academy to encourage literature and the arts. The emperor’s brother and successor later opened a gallery, where some of the items in the current collection were first housed. The gallery was then established as a government department for the preservation of rare books, old paintings, and calligraphy, and became the prototype for Taipei’s collection.
The Song collection was transported from Beijing to Nanjing during the Ming dynasty, then back again, foreshadowing the collection’s many moves in the 20th century. The collection was expanded considerably during the Qing dynasty (1644–1911), whose emperors were avid art collectors. The majority of items in the present collection are the result of their effort to seek out China’s most important treasures.