Watch tower at Fort Zeelandia

Tainan: History in the Present

Oct 13, 2014 - Carlos

After Kaohsiung and Fo Guang Shan, we took the train and headed north to Tainan, the oldest city in Taiwan. The city was first established by the Dutch East India Company as a strategic commercial base in Asia and nowadays it is one of the most historical cities in the country. Both the historical sites and the food (in a later post), lured us here.

Chihkan Tower / Fort Provintia (赤崁楼)

We went to see the Chihkan Tower at night, as we heard it looked pretty in the dark and it had way fewer tourists. A very charming garden with a small pond and lots of koi fish led the way to the fort.

Pond with koi fish at Chihkan Tower in Tainan
Pond with koi fish at Chihkan Tower in Tainan

Fort Provintia was a Dutch settlement in Taiwan built in 1653. Although the original fort was destroyed by an earthquake, it was rebuilt by the government in 1879 using bricks for the walls and a mixture of glutinous rice, sugar, sand and ground seashells as bounding course.

View of Chihkan Tower at night
View of Chihkan Tower at night

The fort still has in its library several dictionaries used by the Dutch to communicate with the local Sakam tribe, as well as business transaction books from the Dutch East India Company. Other than that, there wasn’t too much to see in terms of exhibitions, especially since it lacked English explanations and Julie’s Traditional Chinese reading skills are lacking.

Fort Anping / Fort Zeelandia (安平古堡)

When we arrived at the fort, it was filled with many groups of students who were clearly on a school field trip to visit the fort. Fortunately, the fort was big enough so that we could all enjoy the fort at our own leisure. We started by looking at the walls and many cannons around the main fortress. Once the students vacated the inside of the fortress, we went in to learn more about its history.

Walls and cannons of Fort Zeelandia
Walls and cannons of Fort Zeelandia

This is where it all began for Taiwan. When the Dutch, under the order of the Dutch East India Company, arrived at Formosa Island during the Age of Discovery, they reached the sandbars in the Taijian Inner Sea and started building Fort Zeelandia. Even though there was a lack of water supply in the region, the geographic position of the fort was unbeatable – they had ships going to Japan to the north, China to the west, and many other Asian countries to the south. It was a major international trade spot for the Dutch for 38 years, until they had no more reinforcement coming to help defend against the Chinese attacks. I was particularly impressed by the fact that the Dutch East India Company was the first company to ever issue stocks… back in the 1600s!

Watch tower at Fort Zeelandia
Watch tower at Fort Zeelandia

You know all those stories you had to read back in school for your history classes about the Age of Discovery? Well, I felt like I was living one of them. It was strangely nostalgic, especially since I disliked history classes back then. Visiting places like Fort Anping during this trip has helped me to understand and appreciated history like I never have before.

Confucius Temple (孔庙)

Like most Taiwanese cities, Tainan has its own version of the Confucius Temple. I lost count of how many Confucian temples we’ve visited already. Anyways, we thought it would be worth a shot, since it was one of the oldest in all of Taiwan – it was built in 1666! The temple itself occupied a pretty small area of the square it was located at.

Tainan Confucius Temple
Tainan Confucius Temple

We also walked around the square in front of the temple. It was there that we spotted a bunch of students playing Ultimate (frisbee). We watched them play for a bit and marveled at how they were managing to run so much in the heat. It was a pretty exciting and heated game, with lots of talented players making good moves. While the temple was OK, having watched the locals exercising – jogging, tai chi, meditating, etc – was a worthwhile experience in its own way. Sometimes the most memorable parts of traveling are not the most famous landmarks, but rare glances into how the locals live their lives.

Taiwan’s oldest city certainly lives up to its name with a plethora of historical sites and content. Aside from the history, we also feasted on all the delicacies in town, with details to come.

For more pictures from Tainan, visit the gallery!