Old Tainan City Walls

Old Tainan City Walls

When we talk about “Old Tainan City” as a preserved area, we are talking about the part of the city that was once within the city walls. We could add to that distinction the Five Channels port area just to the west of the walls, but generally, Anping is a whole other area distinct from Old Tainan City. But where were these walls that define Old Tainan City? There is a sketched map of the city walls available in the brochure given out at the Official God of War Temple. I have liberated it from those pages to try to give people a better understanding of where the walls were in comparison to modern Tainan City.

a sketch map of Old Tainan City and its walls

a sketch map of Old Tainan City and its walls

overlay of approximate location on modern city map

overlay of approximate location on modern city map

We can see from the map that the walls made a compact ring around what still is the central area of the city. From the Great South Gate, the walls followed a more or less straight line to the Great East Gate along what is now Shulin Street. From there, they headed north along what is now Shengli Road, through part of the NCKU campus to about Xiaodong Road. It then ran west through Zhongshan Park to about the intersection of Gongyuan North Road and Ximen Road. The walls followed Ximen Road south all the way to Shin Kong Mitsukoshi and then reconnected with the Great South Gate.

We can see that this old map includes the train line and Tainan Rail Station, so we can conclude that it’s from about the turn of the 20th Century during the brief period of time between the completion of the rail line and the destruction of the walls. The city, then, appears to have been more dense between the Chikan Lou Area and the Confucian Temple Area with less development around Tainan Station. I assume the darkened road on the map is the central thoroughfare which ran along what is now Minsheng Road (still a central thoroughfare). We can also see that there was once at least one large canal running through the middle of the city, passing behind Chikan Lou and heading down what is now Minzu Road. It was truly a different-looking city a hundred years ago.

the remaining wall on Shulin St.

the remaining wall on Shulin St.

The city walls had a history of almost two hundred years before being torn down. The Qing rulers built the walls around the city in approximately 1725. The original walls were made from wood. Ten years later, bamboo spears were added to the tops of the walls and the gates were re-constructed using stones and bricks. It wasn’t until 1788 that the walls were reconstructed with stones and bricks. In 1907, the Japanese began tearing down the walls in order to implement their plans of modernizing the urban landscape of Tainan. They started with the western walls and continued to tear down walls at least until 1915. Little remains of these walls, but the best preserved section of wall is on Shulin Street near the Great South Gate.

Outside of the wall that ringed the city, some additional outer ward walls were built around 1835 to help with city defense. Mostly, these were just to the west of the walled-in city. Duiyuemen is a gate from these outer ward walls that still stands.

detail of the wall's stones and bricks under a cement covering

detail of the wall's stones and bricks under a cement covering

There were originally seven gates in the city, but the eighth – the Small West Gate – was added shortly after so that there were four great gates and four small gates in each direction of the city. The Great South Gate and the Great East Gate remain in their original locations, and the Small West Gate has been preserved and relocated to the NCKU campus.

While a few of the patterns of the streets and the locations of major monuments and temples have not changed, most of Old Tainan City changed dramatically when the walls came down. Western-style grid patterns and western-style architecture were both favored by the Japanese during the reconstruction. It would be interesting to think about what the city would look like if the walls had been preserved. No doubt, the city would’ve developed in an entirely different way. The walls would’ve been an obstacle that gave the city more shape than it currently has. More of the modern construction may have appeared outside of the wall resulting in a different business center outside the walls. Much more of Old Tainan City could have been preserved. However, debate over what would have happened is all fantasy and speculation. History is history. The walls did come down, and a sprawling modern city emerged in the form you see today.

Tainan Map from 1895

Tainan Map from 1895, before the rail line and Japanese involvement

Tainan Map Circa 1930

Tainan Map Circa 1930 with some of the wall still remaining in places

5 Responses to “Old Tainan City Walls”
  1. TZ says:

    Fascinating! I have been reading for a while now, thanks for such an informative blog.

  2. Arnaud says:

    I had been wondering what is this wall in Shulin St. It doesn’t look right in the city.

    I have just discovered your excellent blog, even my wife who is from Tainan does not know all the places you show! Now she wants to go there next time we go back to Taiwan.

    Keep up the good work, one of the best blogs I have seen!

  3. I’m very interested in old walls and gates. I wrote many posts about the remaining gates of Taipei. I can’t wait to go to Tainan and discover the whole history.

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