A pilgrimage to Hoi An’s recently reopened gate can usher in an auspicious childbirth for expecting mothers

Tucked away in a quiet pocket in Hoi An’s Hai Ba Trung street sits a reflection pool dotted with lily pads and a few lotus flowers. The pool acts as a mirror. It bears an upside down, blueish representation of the aged yet elegant gate. Previously closed to the public, the almost four-century-old Tam Quan Gate was reopened to the public in December.

The entire site is a nearly 15-meterlong section of wall with two smaller doors and a larger centered door. The wall is mostly gray with orange accents and blue ornamentation. The wall’s flared roofs and the temple-like turrets that dot the top of the wall are meant to mimic a classic Vietnamese architectural style that is today common to the nation’s pagodas, according to Vietnam’s tourism body. In an announcement on the site’s reopening, the Vietnam Administration of Tourism noted that the site was originally built in 1626 in another location. It was physically moved to its current location on Hai Ba Trung street.

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The VND5.3 billion restoration last year is the third in the gate’s history. In 1848 and 1922, local authorities completed major updates to the structure. The gate was officially recognized as an ancient treasure by the French Institute for Eastern Archeology in 1930. At this time, the gate was considered one of Hoi An’s more coveted architectural treasures on par with the famous Japanese Bridge and the Trieu Chau clubhouse, the ancient worship site of the city’s Chinese residents. 

Sometime during the 20th century, the gate was allowed to fall into disrepair and was closed to the public before reopening at the end of 2018. The gate is part of Hoi An’s Muoi Hai Ba Mu Temple. The site’s name translates to “Twelve Midwives” in English, and it’s named so for the 12 fairies that are said to teach children their first skills such as sucking and smiling, according to Pictures from History, an online library of historical images from Asia’s past. The image appears with a photo of the gate dating back to 1930.

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Vietnamese culture carries with it detailed and sometimes complex rituals surrounding childbirth and care of women who’ve just given birth. In some parts of Vietnam, a special ritual honoring these fairy mothers is performed when a baby is a month old.

Similarly, the gate has historically been a destination for parents who wish to secure blessings for their children. They visit the gate with their children to view the gate’s 36 heavenly protectors and 12 mystical midwives who are said to help shepherd newborns through childbirth and protect new mothers from evil.

The temple is set back about 30 meters from the busy Hai Ba Truong street which, in spite of its motorized transport ban, is busy with another kind of traffic: strolling pedestrians. The space around the temple proceeds normally in a pleasant casualness; in a January afternoon when we visited Hoi An, a woman hung laundry a stone’s throw from the ancient relic. Passing through the gates brings one to a schoolyard where playing children play in the shadow of the old sentry.