Turning Taiwan Architectural Heritage into a Tourism Asset

TAIPEI- The first impression of Taiwanese cities is generally anything but glamorous. Most cities in Taiwan have the appearance of jungle of concrete with rather unattractive concrete structures mostly built from the 1960s onwards. However things have changed for the best. In 1982, a law on heritage protection was promoted. But it is only over the last decade that a new consciousness emerged among citizens to preserve their heritage. This new awakening to their history has been accompanied by the Government which has so far classified 1,700 buildings and monuments for their cultural and historical value. 

Taiwan still has today a large collection of old mansions and temples to be seen all across the Island. They were generally been built between 1600 and 1800 by the first Chinese settlers. They have preserved their old character and many have been returned to their old splendour, especially following restoration.  The council's cultural heritage administration spends now between US$10 and US$15 million a year to subsidise the preservation of historical cities. 

Even in a modern city like Taipei, there is today a new sense of protecting the colonial heritage of Japan which rules Taiwan from 1895 to 1945. During the years of its colonial rule, Japanese covered Taiwan with public infrastructures built in a typical Western renaissance or gothic. The Western style was effectively very much in flavour during the Meiji era. 

Today, some of these buildings have been admirably reconverted. One of the best examples in Taipei is the Red House, an historic market built in 1908 by a Japanese architect in the Ximending area and used from 1945 as a theatre. It is today a centre for subculture as well as the heart of Taipei gay district. Another impressive colonial style building is the Taipei Story House. Built in 1913–14 by Chen Chao-chun, a Dadaocheng tea merchant, the English style villa is today a museum showing life in Taipei at the beginning of the 20th century.  

Many old structures have also been preserved in the outlying archipelago of Penghu which has preserved old coral stone houses and the Tianhou Gong temple, the oldest in Taiwan. 

As Taiwan is embracing tourism and wants to attract more tourists all across the island, it is now emphasizing the reconversion of old buildings into tourism facilities. In some of Taiwan most spectacular landscapes, century-old homes have now been transformed into small coffee shops and restaurants, shops or guest houses and hotels. In Matsu Island, some of the Mediterranean style houses to be seen are now hotels. Same has been done with some of the historical red-brick houses of Kinmen island. A new law passed in 2006 force real estate developers to compensate owners of historical sites and help them preserving their original home. Taiwan office of tourism has also been released booklets and brochures highlighting the cultural heritage of districts or old villages all across Taiwan. 

(Source: Travel Daily News by Luc Citrinot 2 July 2013)

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