TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- This week saw the Taipei’s Urban Regeneration Office (URO) launch its 17th “Old Building New Life Awards”, a laudable program which seeks to encourage the preservation and renovation of historic buildings.
Taiwan’s record with preserving its own history is not great with far too many historic and architecturally significant buildings falling victim to the greed of developers. Once they are gone, they are not coming back and this is something that future generations of Taiwanese will curse the current leadership for.
But for all the sad stories of buildings lost, there are still a number of very important buildings in Taiwan which have been protected and preserved. Here is a rundown of my pick of the Top 10.
- Former British Consulate at Takao (打狗英國領事館)
The Former British Consulate at Takao (打狗英國領事館) was built in 1865 and now occupies a prime position at the peak of Shaochuantou (哨船頭) commanding panoramic views of Kaohsiung harbour and the city. It was built in 1865, with a veranda and roof being added in 1900. It served as residence for the British Consular Official for Taiwan. The Consulate building itself sits at the bottom of the hill down a winding path.
By 1985 it was in ruins, largely thanks to Typhoon Thelma (賽洛瑪颱風) which devastated Kaohsiung in 1977. But the residence restoration was carried out carefully following the 1900 designs, while the Consulate has been restored more recently. Today the building appears as it would have at its pomp., while today the residence plays host to a museum, exhibitions, and a tea room.
- Fort San Domingo (紅毛城)
Fort San Domingo (紅毛城) is located in the Tamsui (淡水) district of New Taipei and can trace its history back to the era of Spanish occupation in Taiwan. The first permanent structure was built here in 1637, but the oldest remains structures at the site are Fort Antonio, which dates to 1644 when the Dutch had seized control. This Fort was built from brick and stone and was built to last.
Under the Qing Dynasty, a wall and four gates were built around the site, only one of which remains today. The British took control of the Fort in 1868 and were the first to paint it red, as it appears today. Previously, it would have been white. The British controlled the site until 1980 and after a sensitive refurbishment in 2005, it now serves as a museum.
- Tainan Confucian Temple (台南孔廟)
The Confucian Temple (孔廟) in Tainan was originally built in 1665, during the reign of Koxinga (鄭成功), but has been renovated and expanded several times since then, most significantly in 1712 and 1777. A major renovation in 1917 saw some parts of the original temple demolished, but since then the site has remained unchanged with the most recent, and somewhat more sensitive renovation taking place from 1987-1989. Today, the temple is both a place of worship, a museum to Confucian educational methods, and a popular tourist attraction.
- Chaotian Temple (朝天宮)
Many of the preserved historic buildings in Taiwan are temples, but the Chaotian Temple Beigang (北港) Township, Yunlin County, is my favourite. It was built in 1700 and is one of the largest and most well-known Mazu (媽祖) temples in the country. Since its initial construction, the temple has been further expanded in 1730, 1770, and 1854.
Today, it hosts some of the most spectacular temple architecture to be found anywhere in the country and remains an important religious center, with more than a million visitors a year. Many go for the raucous atmosphere and the surrounding streets filled with shops and food stalls, but it is well worth getting up close to the buildings itself if you can to enjoy its rich history.
- Changhua Roundhouse (彰化扇形車庫)
The Changhua Roundhouse (彰化扇形車庫) was built in 1922 during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan and is still working today. It is thought to be the last operational roundhouse anywhere in Asia. There were six such buildings originally constructed in Taiwan, but the other five had all been demolished by the mid-1990’s.
This one was only saved after a public campaign. Today, it hosts diesel and electric trains rather the stream engines it was originally built for and is also a tourist site. There are minimal facilities, mostly just a walkway and viewing platform and visitors have to dodge the odd train as it comes rumbling in. It is a bit hidden away, but well worth a visit for a brief insight into Taiwan’s railway heritage.
- Lin Family Mansion (板橋林家花園)
The oldest structure at the Lin Family Mansion was originally built around 1847 as a "rent house" (租館) and boasts a quadrangular courtyard which would have served as a centre for the collection of rent crop. In 1851, the Three-Courtyard Mansion (三落大厝) was constructed as the main residence of the Lin Ben Yuan (林本源) family.
As a powerful family, the mansion itself includes several defensive features which can still be seen today. Tourists today flock to the site in Banqiao primarily to see the extensive gardens, which are considered one of the Four Great Gardens of Taiwan (台灣四大名園). But the buildings themselves are also fascinating and if you can get on a tour, there is much to be seen inside too.
- Shennong Old Street (台南神農老街)
Shennong Old Street(神農老街), formerly known as Beishi Street(北勢街), is considered by many to be home to the best preserved traditional street architecture in Taiwan. During the Qing Dynasty, this working class area was a trading hub where countless goods were bought, sold, and stored.
After a period of decline, in the mid-1990’s a gradual restoration of the street began. The street was repaved, new lighting was installed, and several of the buildings along the street were returned to their original appearance. This process continues and some of the buildings now host galleries and tea houses.
There is plenty of work still to do, but Shennong Old Street(神農老街) still offers a unique insight into how Tainan used to be.
- Zhaishan Tunnel (翟山坑道)
The Zhaishan Tunnel (翟山坑道) in Kinmen (金門) was only constructed in early the 1960’s, in the wake of the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis of 1958. They were abandoned in 1986 and could easily have fallen into disrepair and been forgotten about. But soldiers who had served in Kinmen and remembered the tunnels campaigned for them to be preserved and in 1998 they were opened to the public.
Walkways allow visitors to pass through and experience the scale of this man-made tunnel and associated waterway which is large enough to hide small naval ships inside. It truly offers a unique insight into the military conflicts between Taiwan and China and but for a few campaigners could have been lost altogether.
- Former Japanese Navy Radio Station, Fongshan (原日本海軍鳳山無線電信所)
(Bureau of Culture and Heritage, Ministry of Culture)
The former Japanese Navy Radio Station in Fongshan was built in 1919 and for thirty years served as the main radio communication station for the Japanese Navy between the port of Kaohsiung and Japan. But after the Chinese Nationalists moved their capital to Taiwan in 1949, it took a darker turn. It became a detention and interrogation center where military prisoners were held.
It also played a part in the White Terror and was given the rather ominous nickname of the "Fengshan Guest House". It later served as a Navy training center before abandoned. Today, the site is operated by the Bureau of Cultural Heritage and offers an insight into its unique and varied history.
(Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) Facebook page)
Perhaps the most prominent recent restoration project in Taiwan saw Taipei’s North Gate Square restored to its former glory after an about 18-month project. Taipei City Mayor Ko Wen- (柯文哲) described the new gate as the Arc de Triomphe of Taipei.
It is certainly impressive and an improvement on the 1966 rebuilding of the East Gate, South Gate, and Little South Gate, which was done using iron-reinforced concrete and saw them being completely redesigned. The city walls themselves date back to 1882 under the Qing Dynasty and originally stretched for 5.32 kilometers. As Taipei developed, various bits of wall and associated structures have been demolished, but plenty still remains, with the North Gate now undoubtedly the jewel in the crown.