More than two years and a $7.5 million makeover later, Singapore's oldest Teochew temple is ready for a new beginning.
The Yueh Hai Ching temple on Phillip Street will officially re-open on March 31 after an extensive restoration, which involved 45 craftsmen from Swatow, China.
The temple's gold gilding has been conserved, its timber structure restored and its once-dark prayer halls now infused with gentle lighting.
But one of the main highlights of the project is the restoration of the 120 colourful ceramic figurines, which depict scenes from Chinese classics such as The Three Kingdoms, on the temple's roof.
While fairly small, the 777 sq m Yueh Hai Ching, which comprises two shrines, has the highest density of craft and ornamentation works of any temple in Singapore.
Bringing these back to their former glory was the trickiest part. Architectural conservator Yeo Kang Shua said no one carving was the same because different teams of artists and craftsmen had worked on the national monument, in its current form, between 1895 and 1897.
"Each section of the temple features a high standard of skill and artistry," he said.
The entire restoration effort required the expertise of a team of five consultants handpicked by the Ngee Ann Kongsi, the temple's custodian.
The Teochew social welfare organisation also flew in workers from Shantou, where the temple's original craftsmen hailed from, to work on the temple's intricate carvings and embellishments.
For decades, the one-storey building - which was often packed with about 200 devotees on festive days - had been growing dilapidated. It suffered from termite infestation, crumbling plaster work and severely eroded ornaments. Many of its rooftop figurines were faceless and broken. Most recently, it underwent basic repair and renovation work in 1994 and in the mid-2000s.
But these were insufficient, superficial and not in the spirit of conservation, according to architect Raymond Woo.
"The Ngee Ann Kongsi decided that it was time to bring in the experts to help restore the temple to its original glory," he said.