On the first part of our walk across Taipei, we saw a series of buildings that reflected two centuries of the capital’s history, spanning its transition from an outpost of Qing China to a colony of Imperial Japan.
But we’re not done yet – not by a long shot. So tighten those laces, take a sip of water, and get the camera ready.
Let’s pick up where we left off and move on from there.
Thus far, I’d seen a profusion of styles representing various eras and movements, from the traditional Chinese architecture of the Qing era to hybrid Western-Japanese styles from the early part of colonial rule. My next stop, which rose from the ground a few decades after the Red House, came into existence when Japan’s hold on Taiwan was already deeply entrenched and new modes were making their mark on the urban fabric of Taipei.
Completed in 1936, Zhongshan Hall was designed to serve as the seat of Taipei’s city government during Japanese rule. The building is composed of a rather odd mix of styles, with a somewhat forbidding fortress-like facade yielding to a more refined and richly ornamented interior.
I left the hall and headed north, pausing briefly in front of an elegant structure on the opposite side of Yanping South Road.
Dwarfed by its towering neighbours, the Taipei Futai Street Mansion was a true sight for sore eyes in an area dominated by bland, boring, dirt-streaked modernity.
Built in 1910 as the headquarters of a construction firm, this quaint little gingerbread house of a building sports European flourishes and a distinctly non-native style that sets it apart from pretty much everything around. Of course, back in the day (i.e., the Meiji Period when the mansion was erected) it would have fit in quite nicely, given how highly this sort of Western design was favoured in Japan at the time.
In any case, even if one were to set aside its historical significance, this would still be one of my favourite buildings in Taipei. I loved almost everything about it, from the strikingly balanced facade and solid stonework to the large dormer window and shingled roof, and even its compact boxy outline. A very simple design, shorn of excessive ornamentation without sacrificing civilised elegance, yet one that holds an almost timeless appeal, unlike many examples of modern architecture that hold the public enthralled for a few short years before lapsing into obsolescence (and often demolition). Throwaway structures for a throwaway culture … such are the times we live in.
Sorry, I seem to be veering off on a philosophical tangent here. Let’s move on before I start putting on togas and reciting lines from Cicero condemning the present age.
I resumed my northward trek, stopping at a pedestrian island a mere stone’s throw from the old mansion.
This was the perfect vantage point from which to observe the stately facade of the Taipei Post Office, completed in 1930.
Crossing over to the other side, I planted myself in front of the post office and turned my gaze away, towards the city’s old North Gate.
In the late 19th century, the Qing government ordered the construction of an enclosure wall to help shore up Taipei’s defences. Stretching for miles around the provincial capital, the fortifications were pierced by five gates – one in each of the cardinal directions and an additional, smaller portal in the southern boundary. These walls (along with the West Gate) were torn down during Japanese rule, and most of the remaining gates were remodelled with no regard for authenticity. Only the North Gate still appears more or less as it did in the days when Taiwan was under the control of Imperial China.
The next stop lay some distance to the south…
…not exactly what I’d call far, but far enough for pangs of hunger to strike – I hadn’t had lunch yet after all. I remedied that with a quick snack stop at a convenience store somewhere along the route, after which I proceeded to a large Classical building set within the leafy grounds of the 2/28 Memorial Peace Park.
Inaugurated in 1915, this palatial structure is the home of the National Taiwan Museum.
Standing in front of the museum were two large copper bulls, said to have been salvaged from the long-destroyed Taiwan Grand Shrine.
Across the street was another museum, the Land Bank Exhibition Hall, housed in a former bank building from the 1930s.
I headed south, deep into the heart of the central government district…
…passing the stately headquarters of the Bank of Taiwan…
…before reaching the grand Presidential Office Building, seat of Taiwan’s head of state.
After its completion in 1919, this striking red-and-white structure’s first duty was to house the offices of the Japanese Governor-General and his staff. Restored after suffering considerable damage during the Second World War, the building became the home of the Taiwanese presidential office after the Nationalist government relocated to the island from mainland China.
I turned a corner and headed east along Ketagalan Boulevard, a broad 10-lane avenue spanning the distance between the Presidential Office Building and Taipei’s old East Gate.
Along the way, I passed the perimeter wall of the Taipei Guest House – perhaps one of the grandest remnants of the Japanese colonial era…
…but the grounds were securely off-limits to the public and I had to settle for a shot of the gate.
In due course, I reached a massive roundabout with the East Gate at its centre.
It’s a pity that the gate no longer has its original appearance, but one might hope that this will be addressed in a future restoration programme.
Look carefully at the preceding photograph and you’ll notice the roof of the National Concert Hall peeking out from the line of trees behind the East Gate. It’s the very same National Concert Hall that I visited the previous day, which shows just how close this route has taken us to the enormous monuments of Taipei’s Liberty Square. If I hadn’t already seen them, I’d have probably kept heading east for a visit before swinging north and continuing on my planned route.
But since I’d already finished with that part of the city, I turned left and north…
…pausing for a quick snapshot in front of the old West Campus of the National Taiwan University Hospital, built in the 1910s.
Maintaining my northerly course, I soon found myself standing in front of Jinan Presbyterian Church, built in 1916.
The long years of Japanese colonial rule have certainly left an indelible mark on Taipei. This part of town is quite richly endowed with Western structures built by Taiwan’s former masters, and if I’d continued my march north I’d have seen more of the same – the lavish headquarters of the Control Yuan, for example. But these grand European-style buildings weren’t the only sort of architecture that Japan left behind, as I found out when I turned east…
…and swung by the former home of the mayors of Taipei. Constructed in 1940 to a hybrid Japanese-Western (but mostly Japanese) design, the building played host to a long succession of mayoral residents until 1994. It now serves as a cultural venue and restaurant.
Despite all the time I spent on this cross-city walk, there was still quite a lot left to see – proof, if I ever needed it, of Taipei’s rich architectural heritage – but my legs were quite ready to give out and the time for my flight was drawing ever closer. I called it a day and headed back into the city’s subway network, then to my hostel to collect luggage and prepare for the journey to the airport.
So much left unseen and undone … but on the bright side, I’ve got a whole host of reasons to come back soon.
And if any readers were waiting for me to post a few pictures of the typical Taipei visitor’s near-obligatory visit to a certain iconic local landmark, I suppose you’ll need to wait a bit longer – like the next time I’m in the city. (^_^)
To be continued.