The Most Fortified City and Its Hidden Forts
Keelung is the most fortified part of Taiwan. 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. 
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:
- Fort Tamsui
- Nid D’Aigle
- Fort Bertin
- Blockhaus Ouest
3. Fort Bertin
One of Mark’s latest discoveries is Fort Bertin. Although Fort Bertin is named after a French captain stationed there it plays a key role in the history of a different one, one of France’s most famous commanders, Joseph Joffre. Before the French WW1 commander came to be a household name, he came to Fort Bertin as a young officer in his 30s.
Fort Bertin has a distinct L shape and only a part of the wall remains. The distinct lack of infrastructure, in contrast to the other mentioned forts, may have contributed to it being lost to time, until now.
“Let’s see if you can tell where the fort starts,” Mark challenges.
A trench answers his challenge, signifying the beginning of the fort.
Across from the trench, the highest point above sea level stands at 180 meters. Looking out two kilometers to the east one can see what appear to be little houses. Instead of the living though, they house the dead. They are modern graves and atop them sits more history: another fort, Fort Sud (South Fort).
Making a turn from the high point and walking along the long side of the L, one sees numerous firing points and trenches. Evenly spaced depressions serve as firing points, facing in the direction of Fort Tamsui, remnants of when the Qing faced the French. Fort Bertin tells the tale of the tides of war. Facing away from Tamsui, on the opposite side of the firing points, sandstone is carved in a way to keep a large gun in place and prevent slipping. This faces towards the slope for when the French took over.
The L sits on a high ridge line unideal due to exposure to the enemy. For this reason, troops would walk on a lower path right underneath. Looking down from one part of the ridge a clearing exists, serving as an accommodation area for tents. Running a metal detector over the area results in many pings. “Soldiers drop things all the time,” Mark notes.
Soldiers aren’t the only ones dropping items, however. Along the long side of the L, other realms of society and time come into focus once more. Local offerings, paper money with sheets of silver or gold, are often replenished along the trail.
On way to Blockhaus Ouest
On the road back towards Blockhaus Ouest another historical puzzle confronts us. A Japanese memorial of sorts. It confuses experts to some degree. While the tiling, colors, and layout suggest Japanese, other properties stand out. For one, the guardian lion placed at its center likely replaced a preexisting single stone column. This column would have held a memorial to a Kami (a deity). Finally, it faces North East, notable due to that being the direction of Yasukuni Shrine, a memorial enshrining soldiers who died in service of Imperial Japan. “Facing Yasukuni when about to die in battle or commit seppuku if so required, was akin to facing Mecca to pray for Muslims,” Mark explains. The area itself is well kept, though no recent record of it exists thus far.
Continuing towards the fort, bricks are used as stepping stones to gain footing in the slippery mud. Concrete posts appear along the way signaling that this used to be part of a modern military base and the path towards the fort walks along the back of it. The path to the fort is situated behind the Shiqiuling Ping’an Temple (獅球嶺平安宮). Two graves are seen here that archaeologists estimate date to 1891, placing them after the Sino-French War and on the cusp of Japanese occupation.
4. Blockhaus Ouest
Though historically not technically a fort, the actual support position itself appears to be an artillery position. It was used as support behind the frontlines of battle. On top sits the firing position and the floor beneath it reveals remnants of mechanisms used to lock a gun in place. The size of the area provides evidence that it was for an old gun. Modern military forces would use a bigger gun necessitating a bigger artillery position. Furthermore, the presence of the recoil wall behind the firing position suggests a more distant era as more modern technological adaptations have developed to handle the recoil.
To the left of the firing position, a large rectangular brick building with a small window holding two wooden posts greets visitors. This presumably housed artillery though now it seems to house mostly wild foliage as roots snake around its exterior.
Hidden Forts and their Hidden Stories
Each defensive position’s unique features revive a new story. Inside each hidden fort is a hidden story. As these stories have thus far been out of the public eye it’s important to remember the people who fought here. A majority of French soldiers were not white men but mostly Morrocan and Algerian. Stories of the mundaneness of war, the triviality, and the harsh consequences of life and death. The French had lots of forts but the issue they came across when they seized land from the Qing was they didn’t have enough men to continue and command all their forts. Their goal to make it to Taipei was unrealized though Keelung serves as a canvas upon which patterns of that attempt are painted.
History is only alive so long as we remember it. As Mark puts it, “It’s really a matter about who cares for the local history.”
Keelung is an essential location rich with historic importance. Every step in Keelung retells a past story. Keelung For A Walk invites you to walk through these stories and carve your own.
 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.
 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
 Buckton, M. (Feb 15, 2022 ). Saving history — Fort Bertin ‘rediscovered’ – Taipei Times