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Keelung: the city of the thousand bomb shelters

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The city of the thousand bomb shelters

Let me start with a disclaimer: there might not be exactly one thousand bomb shelters in Keelung; there might be less… there might also be more! If you ask a local, she/he will tell you there are 500 bomb shelters in the city; if you go to the local government website, it might say 1000! The exact number might be unknown as bomb shelters litter the city’s many hills. 


Keelung bomb shelter on Zhongshan 3rd Road
A bomb shelter by Zhongshan 3rd Road


Where are the hidden bomb shelters?

It can feel like a treasure hunt looking for some of these shelters, and it’s always rewarding (at least for me) finding a hidden one. They’re mostly closed to the public, but some are used daily by local commuters as a pedestrian shortcut (i.e. the 100 Year Old Shelter from No. 9 Long-an Street, Lane 96, Alley 7, in Ren’ai District, Keelung). Some of these shelters are even converted to restaurants, such as the Pufferfish Restaurant serving delicious seafood and pasta.


Keelung’s 100 Year Old Bomb Shelter
The 100 Year Old Bomb Shelter used as a pedestrian road in Keelung’s Ren’ai District


Keelung’s history and bomb shelters

You might ask why there are so many bomb shelters in Keelung. Knowing the city’s colorful history, it’s easy to see why. Discounting the first aboriginal settlers in the area, Keelung’s history (and its armed conflicts) starts with the Spanish in the early 1600s, who built a fort in the area. They were expelled by the Dutch, who were then driven out by the Ming loyalist Koxinga, who was later defeated by the Qing troops. 


Keelung's sealed bomb shelter on Zhongshan 3rd Road; bomb shelters
A sealed bomb shelter along Zhongshan 3rd Road


After the first Sino-Japanese war, Taiwan became a Japanese Colony from 1895 until the end of WWII. During the Qing times, the city was bombarded by the British during the First Opium War, and then again during the Sino-French War; in the latter, it was even occupied by the French for almost a year. During WWII, due to its importance as a Japanese port, the city was also bombed by Americans.  


Keelung's WW2 bomb shelter in Zhongshanan Road
A large bomb shelter in Zhongshanan Road, probably used during Wold War 2


The first bomb shelters were probably built by the Qing, which the Japanese greatly expanded and built many of the ones we still find today. Some suggest they might even be useful for potential conflicts with Taiwan’s  big neighbor to the west


Keelung's bomb shelter from Qing Dynasty
A bomb shelter inside the historical Dawulun Fort from the Qing era


New ways to use historical bomb shelters

For me, I think the shelters have an untap potential as tourists and adventurers’ attractions. I also think they can be great locations for the film and TV industry. Imagine a zombie or a sci-fi post-apocalyptic movie where people are driven into living in shelters; Keelung bomb shelters would be the perfect locations for that!


Inside a Keelung bomb shelter
Looking into one of the bomb shelters


Keelung bomb shelter as government storage facilities
Most present bomb shelters are used as storage facilities by the city government


So the next time you’re visiting the city, make sure to find some of the shelters and walk through at least one of them. If nothing else, they can be fun treasure-hunts for the history buffs!


Bomb shelter near Keelung City downtown
A bomb shelter in Nanrong Road, at the edge of Keelung’s downtown


Keelung City bomb shelters ready as filming locations for zombie post-apocalyptic movies
Zhongshan 3rd Road in Keelung is littered by unused bomb shelters, ready to be used as filming locations for your next zombie post-apocalyptic movie!


Walking Tours; bomb shelters

Follow Will:
Will (K. C.) Shim: I recently finished my PhD studies on wildlife genetics (specializing on fish tapeworms) at the University of Texas at Austin, and I’m taking a “sabbatical” (i.e. a fancy way of saying a year off) to travel, reconnect with old friends and family (some of whom I haven’t seen in ages!), and to rediscover my ancestral roots by learning Chinese mandarin… in Keelung, Taiwan!

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