Perched on top of a hill overlooking Sizihwan in Kaohsiung, the former residence of the British Consulate established during the Qing Dynasty in 1879 is Taiwan's oldest remaining mansion of Western heritage.
On any given day, visitors flock to the national historic site to relive the era of ocean trade and adventure and see the sun's golden hued rays melt into the horizon, all while sipping on a cup of English tea.
The former consulate, upgraded to national monument status in December 2018, is a testament to why for centuries Taiwan, named "Ilha Formosa" (beautiful island) by the Portuguese in 1542, has been attracting visitors.
After the Qing government opened Anping (Tainan) and Tamsui ports to foreign trade in 1858, Jilong (Keelung) and Takow (Kaohsiung) were eventually opened as secondary ports, and the British relocated their vice-consulate in southern Taiwan to Takow in November 1864.
Just a few months later, in February 1865, the office was upgraded to Britain's first consulate in Taiwan, but it was initially housed on a ship in Takow Port and then a local house.
It was not until 1878 when work began on the consulate complex supervised by the British Royal Engineers.
The consulate residence was located on the top of a hill to look down at the port from a height, while the consulate's office was located at the foot of the hill to be near Customs, making it easier to deal with both consular service and commercial trade issues.
Francis Julian Marshall, the acting surveyor at the Office of Works in Shanghai that handled the construction of all consular facilities, was the architect behind the consulate complex, explaining the buildings' colonial style, with verandas and symmetrical archways.
Though designed by a British national, the residence and consulate were built by Chinese laborers using materials imported from Xiamen, across the Taiwan Strait.
The old consulate's heyday would come to a rather quick end, however, as Taiwan was ceded to Japan by the Qing government in April 1895. With trade stagnating under Japanese rule, the consulate was closed in 1910, and its property rights were transferred to the Japanese government in December 1925.
Under the Japanese, the old residence was converted into the Kaohsiung Marine Observatory of the Taiwan Governor-General Office in 1931 while the consulate building was turned into the Kaohsiung Aquatic Research Station in 1932.
In 1946, after the Japanese left Taiwan following the end of World War II, the residence was taken over by Kuomintang forces that had assumed control of Taiwan and turned into the Kaohsiung Meteorological Observatory of the Central Weather Bureau.
The residence went idle after May 1973 when the observatory relocated to Chienchen Fishing Port, and Typhoon Thelma laid the building in ruins in 1977. But Kaohsiung's Bureau of Cultural Affairs (KBCA) restored the site to its current appearance and positioned it as a cultural heritage site for leisure purposes starting in 2003.
A historic site
The old consulate at the foot of the hill became the Kaohsiung Branch of the Taiwan Provincial Fisheries Research Institute in June 1950, but staff working there moved out in 2004, and the building was designated a municipal historic site.
Lin Shang-ying (林尚瑛), KBCA deputy head, said the whole complex consisting of the old residence and consulate and a hiking trail that connects the two was opened collectively as the British Consulate at Takow on Nov. 12, 2013.
The complex holds deep cultural significance, Lin said, referring to the insight it offers into Taiwan's past and a remnant of the influence of overseas culture on different parts of the country.