Last week, I put together a list of the top ten natural wonders in Taiwan. It could easily have been a Top 50 or longer. But for all of Taiwan’s natural beauty, there is no denying the impact that mankind has had on the island of Formosa. There is evidence of human life on Taiwan for at least 20,000 years and everyone from prehistoric peoples, through Taiwan’s various aboriginal communities, the early European and Chinese settlers, and the Japanese, to the present-day population, has left some kind of mark.
Much of the modern impact of man has been detrimental with the western plains of Taiwan, in particular, have been hugely overdeveloped. But for all that, there is also no shortage of manmade wonders in Taiwan too and in this article, I have compiled my top ten:
- Taipei 101 (台北101)
Taipei 101. (Wikimedia Commons)
It might seem cliched, but no list of Taiwanese manmade marvels would be complete without mentioning perhaps the country’s most recognisable attraction; Taipei 101. It may no longer be the tallest building in the world (it is now only ranked 9th) but the views from the top are no less impressive for that there is still plenty to marvel at.
The lifts that carry visitors up to the viewing gallery travel at 60.6 km/h and were until 2016 the fastest in the world. The exterior design of the building, which is a postmodern take on traditional Asian architecture blended with new technology was designed by Taiwan-based architect C. Y. Lee and is quite remarkable. But my personal highlight is the huge 660 tonne tuned mass damper; a giant steel pendulum which hangs between the 87th and 92nd floors and sways to counter strong winds and earthquake movements.
- Hsuehshan Tunnel (雪山隧道)
Hsuehshan Tunnel. (Wikimedia Commons)
The Hsuehshan Tunnel might be a nightmare to drive through at rush hour, but it is a remarkable feat of engineering and has transformed the fortunes of Yilan while providing a vital link between the East and West Coasts of the country. The tunnel is just over 8 miles (12.9km) long and at the time of opening was the 5th longest in the world. It is now the 9th longest.
It took 15 years to build as engineers dealt with just about every problem possible, from unexpected geological faults to massive flooding. The total cost of the tunnel was NT$90.6 billion (US$2.83 billion) and 25 lives lost. But it cut travelling time between Taipei and Yilan from more than two hours to 30 minutes. And despite the chronic traffic problems it still faces to this day, is a truel astonishing feat of engineering.
- Penghu Twin Hearts Stone Weir – (七美雙心石滬)
Twin Hearts Stone Weir. (Flickr user okman450)
Located in Qimei Township (七美)on Penghu Islands, the Twin Hearts Stone Weir is the best-known example of a remarkable ancient fishing method which is thought to have been used on the islands for more than 700 years and may well go back as far as the stone age. Fisherman constructed a series of walls out of rocks and coral in the shallow waters close to the shore which allowed fish to swim inside a walled-off area they then could not escape from.
There are estimated to be more than 500 examples of this fishing technique across the islands of Penghu, but the most famous one is the Twin Hearts Stone Weir, mostly because it resembles two hearts and makes a nice photo opportunity. It is also one of the best-preserved examples too and a reminder of just how long people have been living and surviving in Taiwan.
- Zhaishan Tunnel, Kinmen (翟山坑道)
Zhaishan Tunnel. (Wikimedia Commons)
The Zhaishan Tunnel (翟山坑道) in Kinmen (金門) was built in early the 1960’s and provided a lifeline for the island of Kinmen for almost 30 years. The tunnel, which took five years to construct, is located in Jincheng Township (金城)and served as a sheltered harbour for both military vessels and supply boats during a period when they regularly came under attack from Chinese military forces located just a couple of miles away in Xiamen.
The tunnel is 101 metres long, 6 metres wide and 3.5 metres high and features an A-shaped waterway which is 357 metres long where ships could be moored until it was safe to depart. There are also 7 rooms which served as barracks. All of this was carved out of the bare rock and proved crucial in ensuring Kinmen was supplied with food and other essential materials for almost three decades.
- Gaoping River Cable-Stayed Bridge(斜張橋) / Danjiang Bridge - / 淡江大橋
Gaoping River Cable-Stayed Bridge. (Kaohsiung City Government)
The proposed Danjiang Bridge (淡江大橋) which will span the mouth of the Tamsui River between Bali and Tamsui has been designed by renowned architect Dame Zaha Hadid and will no doubt be a sight to behold upon completion as it will be the bridge will be the longest single-tower, cable-stayed bridge in the world.
But for the impatient amongst you, there is another fine example in Taiwan which can be viewed today and bears a remarkable resemblance to Hadid’s design. The Gaoping River Cable-Stayed Bridge carries the southern highway and crosses the Gaoping River between Kaohsiung and Pingtung close to the Fo Guan Shan Buddha Memorial Hall. At the time of completion, it was second longest non-symmetrical single tower bridge in Asia, with a total length of 2,617 metres. It features a single tower is 183.5 metres high and took 1,280 days to build. It was finally completed on December 30th 1999.
- Paper Dome(紙教堂) / High-Heeled Church(高跟鞋教堂) / Luce Memorial Chapel - 路思義教堂
Luce Memorial Chapel. (Wikimedia Commons)
Temples are ubiquitous in Taiwan and rarely fail to impress with their bright colours and elaborate designs. But Taiwan is also home to a huge number of churches and it is noticeable that many of these have been constructed in remote and hard-to-reach locations. There is no shortage of impressive and unique designs too.
The Paper Dome in Nantou County was designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban using cardboard tubes as its main structural component. It originally served as a temporary church in Kobe, Japan after the 1995 earthquake there but moved to the Taomi Community (桃米社區) of Puli Township in 2008, where it still stands as a place of worship today. In Budai Township, Chiayi County stands a 17.76m high blue glass church in the shape of a high-heeled shoe, built to commemorate the Blackfoot disease outbreak in Taiwan in the 1950s. And on the campus of Tunghai University in Taichung stands the Luce Memorial Chapel ( 路思義教堂), a remarkable tent-like design from architect I. M. Pei (貝聿銘) which was completed in the 1960’s.
- Central Cross-Island Highway - 中部橫貫公路
Central Cross-Island Highway. (Wikimedia Commons)
Taiwan’s Central Cross-Island Highway is one of Taiwan’s most scenic if challenging drives. It is formally known as Provincial Highway 8 (台8線)and connects Tianxiang (天祥) in Taroko Gorge with Hehuanshan (合歡山) and then on to t Dongshi District in Taichung, climbing as high as 3,275 meters above sea level Hehuan Wuling (合歡武嶺).
It was built between 1956 and 1960 and anyone who has driven it will know that far from being a highway in the conventional sense it is a winding and treacherous mountain road for much of its route. It is considered to be one of the most dangerous roads in the world not least thanks to the frequent damage it suffers in typhoons and earthquakes. But it does still offer a viable route from east to west, which is all the more remarkable given that it is almost 60 years old and constructed in just 4 years.
- Jiufen (九份)
Jiufen. (Flickr user Kabacci)
There are plenty of historic streets and houses in Taiwan which could stake a claim to be included on this list. But Jiufen is, for me, the most impressive. Clinging to the hillside, Jiufen is an old mountain town which sprung up fast around the turn of the 20th century after the discovery gold in the hills around. Many buildings remain the same today as they were more than 100 years ago.
The Japanese ruled Taiwan at that time and there is a clear Japanese influence in many of the old tea-houses and shops that line the winding streets and narrow alleys. Today, it is a busy tourist trap, but this shouldn’t detract from the impressive architecture and unique example of how man has managed to live and work just about everywhere in Taiwan’s rugged landscape.
- Alishan Mountain Railway(阿里山森林鐵路)
Alishan Railway. (Wikimedia Commons)
The Alishan Mountain Railway is an impressive network of narrow-gauge railways which was built more than a hundred years ago to support the logging industry in the mountainous area of Alishan. The network stretches to 86km with the main line running from the city of Chiayi to Alishan which is more than 2,200 m above sea level. It features a remarkable 77 wooden bridges and 50 tunnels.
It was constructed during the Japanese colonial era and proved to be crucial to the region's economy as it made the local logging industry possible. Engineers had to overcome numerous natural challenges to get the railway built and over the year’s it has also had to contend with typhoon damage, tunnel collapses, and heavy rain. It was closed for more than six years after Typhoon Morakot in 2009. But today it remains open and is a popular tourist attraction with visitors drawn by one of Taiwan’s great engineering feat as well as the breathtaking natural scenery.
- Beitou Library (北投圖書館)/ Tao Zhu Yin Yuan Tower (陶朱隱園)
Beitou Library. (Wikimedia Commons)
As Taiwan moves into the 21st century, the country is beginning to realize the responsibility mankind has to preserve our natural surroundings and protect the environment. This has led to the development of some remarkable modern buildings highlighting the very latest green architecture. The Beitou branch of the Taipei Public Library is the country’s first green library and has been constructed in wood from sustainable sources. It features large windows to reduce the need for artificial lighting and a roof which not only features solar panels for energy generation but which also collects rainwater used to flush toilets.
Meanwhile, the Tao Zhu Yin Yuan Tower, which will shortly be completed in Xinyi District, Taipei, has not only been designed in a unique double-helix shape but will also include enhancing features aimed at reducing energy and water consumption. Most notably, it will include 23,000 trees and shrubs — nearly the same amount found in New York's Central Park – which will help to combat CO2 emissions in the city.