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Keelung Tower: The Gateway of Keelung

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First-time visitors of Keelung are usually aware of 2 things: 1) the city has a big port, and 2) there are many hills that surround said port. Beyond this, however, the city still remains a mystery, and knowing where to start isn’t exactly obvious. Fortunately for me, Keelung Tower was my first destination.

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Standing as a beacon in the morning sun, Keelung Tower invites you. Its orange color alone would be enough to throw you off, yet its crane-inspired design, paying homage to Keelung’s port history, truly solidifies Keelung Tower as an unusual and fascinating landmark .

Stepping off Yier Road and stepping into one of two elevators (located at its rear), you quickly ascend 58 meters into the sky, arrive upon the 87 -meter stretch of ‘skybridge’, and are greeted with a fresh breeze of air and a 360 -degree view of the city.

All the shapes and colors of Keelung are in full view.

After walking around, you find a flight of stairs descending into the belly of the tower; going down, you reach the tower’s hidden bookstore. Furnished with large paned windows, comfy seating, and contemporary books, the warmth of the sun and the wooden floor make for a peaceful yet engaging area to relax.

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The vibrant secret bookstore of the Tower. You can see the Port and City from here

By design, Keelung Tower functions as a great tour guide, showing you more than it speaks; it lays out the land before you, hiding nothing, though subtly guiding your attention to all the great places to discover in Keelung. More importantly, though, Keelung Tower is a gateway into the heart of Hope Hills – which is a place of natural beauty and architectural intrigue ( Swan Cave is but one of these places). By acting as a passage into these hills, does the entire eastern hillside open itself to both long-time residents and first-time tourists.

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A glance at Keelung Tower from a trail below

As far as first-destinations go, then, Keelung Tower is perfect. Aesthetically striking, yes, though this is only the start. Keelung Tower is particularly special because the landmark of Keelung Tower extends beyond the tower itself, incorporating the entirety of Keelung within its spotlight; without Keelung City, there is no Keelung Tower. This tower is symbolic of change in Keelung, though, Keelung wasn’t always like this, and for a time, things seemed to move backwards.

 

Keelung falling behind

In hindsight, it’s no wonder how Keelung came to be one of the most prominent ports of its era, with its natural bay being flanked by protective mountains and its ideal location on the northern coast, Keelung was destined for great things. The Japanese were the first to fully realize this; having invested in modernizing the port for 40+ years during their occupation, they unknowingly laid the groundwork for Keelung to become Taiwan’s biggest port in the coming century. And it did just that. With Taiwan being handed over to the Republic of China, progress only accelerated, and by the year 1984, Keelung Port had become the 7th largest container port in the world.

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Postcard of Keelung Port, produced during the Japanese colonization era

So what happened? Keelung port today doesn’t even rank among the top 3 nationally ( in terms of pure cargo volume ). Well, assessing ‘why’ is never easy, and often several factors are at play. For example, while Keelung Port is amazing as a port, the surrounding area is covered heavily in mountainous terrain, making it difficult for industry to establish itself nearby, which in turn reduces its total export. Not only this, but the establishment of Taichung and Taipei Port, which both reside closer to China ( Taiwan’s biggest trading partner ) and have a more favorable topology, naturally results in declining business within Keelung—a loss of jobs, a declining population—all of this was to follow.

A great article explaining more about this can be found here .

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Skyview of the Port of Taipei, taken in 2015 – Wing1990hk , CC BY 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Though, as much as Keelung prospered from its identity as a cargo port, today this identity is potentially holding it back. For me, Keelung Tower represents a new identity—an identity that both conserves the roots of Keelung while pivoting and playing to its newfound strengths—and this strength is tourism. A unique form of tourism reveals itself to Keelung, though: that being Cruise Ship Tourism .

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Cruise Ship berthed on the East bank of Keelung Port

The dawn of a new Keelung – Keelung Tower and Cruise Ship Tourism

With the government piling on incentives to boost traffic of cruise ships into the port of Keelung, schemes such as absolving anchorage fees ( article on this here ) only push tourism so far, and with Keelung’s development stalling in recent years, the drive for change was palpable .

Keelung Tower was being built as part of the ‘Keelung Mountain, Sea, and City Series Redevelopment Plan’, an answer to this drive for change. The tower’s role was a unique one: serving as a gateway into the mountains, which was otherwise inconvenient and inconspicuous; attracting tourists, especially those arriving at the eastern port , which sits only 5 minutes across the street; and showcasing Keelung itself, leaving a lasting first impression on those newly acquainted. This becomes even more clear upon hearing the architects’ rationale behind each and every decision; from the angling of the windows, which point toward key locations in the landscape, to the color and design selection, all the way to location, every detail serves the city.

Click here , to hear a more in-depth analysis of the design choices featured in Keelung Tower.

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Keelung Tower at Night – you can see the Huzai Mountain Keelung sign (mimicking the Hollywood sign)

So hopefully, with all this context in mind, Keelung Tower escapes the ‘ just another landmark ‘ category and becomes something a little more special to you. For first-time visitors to Keelung, or for even those who aren’t, Keelung Tower offers a new and unique glimpse into this ever-changing city, and with the city beginning to bloom once again, this sight is to grow only more and more beautiful.

To see the sights you’ll see from the top of the tower up close, join us for a tour around Keelung!

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Follow Diarmaid:
A traveler of sorts, going through my 'finding yourself' phase; Big fan of people, conversations, humour, and the occasional book; Optimisitic and a generally good spirited guy (I hope)

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