Monday, March 7, 2011

Heping Island


Heping Island is a small island just off the coast of Keelung. It has a very long history by Taiwanese standards: the Spanish built a fort here in the 1620's, and were followed by the Dutch, who finally abandoned it in the 1660's. Despite this most of the island is now just like the rest of Keelung, though there are a couple of worthwhile sights. Most famous is Heping Island Park, a coastal park filled with strange sandstone formations similar to those in Yeliu. There is also a graffiti-filled cave (which supposedly contains seventeenth century Dutch graffiti, though I saw no evidence of that) and an interesting small shrine. The strangest thing there though was green coral-like growths in some of the tidal pools. I had seen people snorkeling off the island and thought they were crazy (Keelung in the winter is about the last place I would snorkel in Taiwan), but maybe they just know better than the rest of us.

A shrine on Heping Island

Equally interesting is Sheliao Fort, built on a hill on the island's eastern side. No English guide that I know of mentions it; I only found it through Tony Huang's website (http://www.tonyhuang39.com/tony0603/tony0603.html), but it turned out to be one of the most interesting forts in Taiwan. It is less historically significant than many other Taiwanese forts: it was built in 1909 by the Japanese, and never saw action. It is also very small. However, it is very well preserved despite (or due to) being almost entirely neglected, and the peace and quiet coupled with the gnarled roots growing over its brick walls give it a sense of age lacking in larger, better preserved forts like San Domingo in Danshui. There is also lot to look at, compared to some Taiwanese forts: there are barracks, an ammunition storage area, and several rooms and staircases, as well as well as a single turret, which offers excellent views of the whole northeast coast. Overall I'd say Sheliao Fort is my favorite fort in Taiwan so far.
The fort lies to the east of the bridge linking Heping to Keelung. On the way there you will pass an old well, Heping Island's only visible remnant of the Spanish occupation. Past the well you take a side road on the right uphill through the aboriginal settlement of Alabaowan (judging from Rough Guide the people here are probably Amis from the east coast). This settlement was the closest thing to a slum I've yet seen in Taiwan, and yet its residents were quite friendly.

East Sheliao Fort

There is a second fort on the west side of Heping Island, but it is currently within a military base and is not open to visitors. It is said to contain Spanish and Dutch ruins from the 17th century as well as another Japanese-era fort.

View of Jiufen from the fort

To reach Heping Island take bus 101 from Keelung Train Station. It's worth a visit for long-term expats, but not for short term visitors.
You can see more Heping Island photos in my Keelung album.

A mural on Heping Island

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