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Four Hidden Forts in the Most Fortified City in Taiwan That You Won’t Find in a Brochure (I)

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The Most Fortified City

Keelung is the most fortified part of Taiwan.[1] The landscape is a strategic masterpiece evidenced by its history of defensive positions in each era of occupation. For example, the Japanese occupation beginning in 1895 spawned nearly 700 bomb shelters resulting in Keelung’s claim to the highest density of hiding spots in all of Taiwan. [2]

Hidden forts in Keelung?

Yet even so, Keelung City Cultural Affairs Bureau’s officially listed historical sites hardly scratch the surface. Well-documented forts exist but these neglect the full extent of history available in Keelung’s hills. Hiding among the rocky foothills are scores of unexplored and obscure forts.

Even locals aren’t well aware of the following hidden forts discussed:

  1. Fort Tamsui
  2. Nid D’Aigle
  3. Fort Bertin
  4. Blockhaus Ouest


French Map of Occupied Regions of Keelung from 1884-1885
French Map of Occupied Regions of Keelung from 1884-1885 Source: Keelung. (2023, February 25). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keelung


The Sino-French war

To appreciate these forts’ historical significance one must understand the era they come from: The Sino-French era. Unlike the Japanese era that created hundreds of bomb shelters under the constant threat of bombing, these four forts in Keelung revive a history of a political, social, and economic landscape. The Sino-French war was a conflict between France and the Qing Dynasty. The French came to Keelung for coal after the British, who had coal in Hong Kong, wouldn’t sell to the French as it would signify allyship with the French and the subsequent need to fight the Chinese as well. Around 600 died here though a depressing research finding from last year proved the futility of obtaining coal in Keelung as it ultimately wouldn’t supply enough energy to power their battleships according to recent research by Arsene Donado, a French academic.

Who found the hidden forts?

Despite the rich history of the region, in local knowledge and tourism brochures, many forts remain hidden though not if Mark Buckton has anything to say about it.

Mark Buckton, a self-described “history buff,” has been hiking Keelung’s often treacherous terrain looking for lost forts since 2021. He rediscovered Fort Bertin in September 2021 and served as our tour guide for these four forts to be discussed.[3]

Given their lack of publicity the trails aren’t the best maintained but this adds to the adventure. Rain-sodden terrain gives a new meaning to “slippery when wet” and on one occasion he recounts having to fight off wild dogs. Mark tells us, “My wife came with me for the first and last time…and every time I bring someone she asks me to ask them, ‘But would you go here alone?’”

Fortunately, we didn’t have to go alone and Mark’s enthusiasm led us through trails scattered with 1644-1895 green-blue Qing Dynasty pottery to experience hidden forts armed by Qing and French forces many decades prior.

1. Fort Tamsui

A cobbled mix of eras, Fort Tamsui’s current construction represents the storied past of Keelung’s military history. Fort Tamsui was built in the Sino-French war period with brick. Nowadays, however, concrete intersperses the fort’s structure signifying strengthening conducted in the more recent military period of post-1949. 

Fort Tamsui;hidden forts
Fort Tamsui


Another unique feature of Fort Tamsui is that it is double-walled, indicating its likely use as an ammunition storage place.

As a major fort, Fort Tamsui was self-sufficient. Southeast and below the main fort structure, exists a farm area to grow food while directly to the south of the fort lies an administration area. The top area of the fort holds a gun position with the foundations that held a large gun in place still visible.

Gun Position on Top of Fort Tamsui
Gun Position on Top of Fort Tamsui


Along the Route to Nid D’Aigle

On the path from Fort Tamsui to Nid D’Aigle travelers encounter more signs of battle. Two Qing defensive positions—small fortified guard posts with only a small opening for guns to peek out of called pillboxes—are tucked away on a slope.

One of the Pillboxes Between Fort Tamsui and Nid D'Aigle, hidden forts
One of the Pillboxes Between Fort Tamsui and Nid D’Aigle


Continuing the journey upwards leads to only the beginning of a steep uphill marked by a generously supplied handrail in the form of an orange rope. Right before this sharp incline is an even sharper metal train rail sticking up from the ground. The metal rails are evidence of previous French occupation. During this time, the French Foreign Legion took over this region and created this rail to move items up the hill easier.


A Metal Train Rail Provides Evidence of French Occupation
A Metal Train Rail Provides Evidence of French Occupation

2. Nid D’Aigle

Arriving at Nid D’Aigle, translated to Eagle’s Nest, an expansive view of Keelung awaits. Aptly named, it’s not hard to imagine why Keelung is such a key strategic position. Looking to the right a ridgeline can be viewed where nestled among it lie Fort Tamsui and further on Fort Blockhaus Ouest. The Qing originally used Nid D’Aigle as their frontline against the French before these very people they defended against took over. 

View From the Pillbox atop Nid D'Aigle
View From the Pillbox atop Nid D’Aigle


View of Ridgeline from Pillbox atop Nid D'Aigle
View of Ridgeline from Pillbox atop Nid D’Aigle


Underneath Nid D’Aigle sits its arguably more picturesque command post. This building like Fort Tamsui is double-walled. The brickwork of the building stands out with evenly laid bricks and stones.


Root-covered Entryway to the Command Post
Root-covered Entryway to the Command Post


Brick Wall of the Command Post
Brick Wall of the Command Post


Hidden Forts in Keelung Part II


[1] Taiwan Panorama (Oct 24, 2022). Capture Keelung’s Stormy History. Youtube.; Zeng, Lan-shu(Feb, 2021). Capture Keelung’s Stormy History. Taiwan Panorama. [in Chinese]Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Feb 04, 2021). Re-created Historic Sites Capture Keelung’s Stormy History.

[2]Cave D. & Chien, A. C. (Nov 6, 2022). Taiwan’s Bomb Shelters: ‘A Space for Life. And a Space for Death.’ – The New York Times

[3]  Buckton, M. (Feb 15, 2022 ). Saving history — Fort Bertin ‘rediscovered’ – Taipei Times


Trip in Keelung;hidden forts

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Anna is always looking for her next adventure. She is eager to continue learning, exploring, and connecting to new people, places, and experiences.

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