100-Year-Old Bomb Shelter 百年防空洞

A secret passageway behind the railway line in Keelung.

I found myself in the seedy port town of Keelung 基隆 near the end of my round-the-island bicycle tour of Taiwan in 2013. Later on, after dinner was done, I went out wandering the labyrinth of night—and, on the far side of the railway line near Sānkēng Station 三坑車站 I noticed the entrance to a tunnel running beneath the hillside. Curious, I hunched down (the clearance is only around 175 cm) and made my way through. A minute later I emerged on the other side, somewhat disoriented, though I quickly regained my bearings.

The old bomb shelter entrance by day. The plaque overhead provides an outline of the history.

Since then I have revisited this mysterious passageway several times. When I became somewhat more proficient in reading Chinese the plaque over the southern entrance helped me unravel the story. Formally known as the 100-Year-Old Bomb Shelter 百年防空洞, this peculiar feature of the Keelung urban landscape was originally constructed in 1903, ostensibly for patients at a nearby military hospital (now the site of a school). Later on, in World War II, it also served as an ammunition depot—back when Americans were dropping bombs on Taiwan.

The interior of the tunnel is illuminated night and day. Historic photos are on display along the length of the tunnel.
The far end of the tunnel isn’t much to look at. That’s someone’s home on the right; there really isn’t much space on this hillside.
A mosaic on the footpath connecting the tunnel to a nearby school, former site of a military barracks and hospital in Japanese times.

After taking control of Taiwan the KMT continued to use the tunnel for military purposes but it was eventually abandoned. From what I’ve read the unlit tunnel became a public health menace, accumulating rubbish and attracting intravenous drug users. Only recently was it cleared out and transformed into a modest cultural attraction and quirky pedestrian shortcut.

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4 Comments

  1. Oh, cool! Mystery tunnel.

    Is it fairly common for these types of tunnels to exist to connect just a neighborhood or two? Trying to think of anything analogous here in North America, but it doesn’t seem common anywhere I’ve lived.

  2. No, I haven’t seen many tunnels like this one in Taiwan. Most hillside communities just use stairs. There are plenty of pedestrian underpasses and overpasses in the cities… but I haven’t seen any that have been cut through the hills just for pedestrian traffic.

  3. If you go up the hills behind Keelung you can find forts built around the same time. I believe they were built due to the Russian Japanese war which happened around that time and which Japan won.

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