Updated: Sep 6
I recently moved to Tamsui (淡水 dànshuǐ), a “small” town north of Taipei. I say “small” because Tamsui happens to have roughly 500,000 inhabitants! Yet, despite its large population, it still gives that small town feel.
Before I moved here, I already knew that Tamsui played a key role in Taiwan's History. However, today I’d like to tell you specifically about a special place in Tamsui, the legendary Fort San Domingo, a landmark with such a rich history, it could fill a textbook!
Fort San Domingo can be found on the outskirts of town, at the mouth of the River Tamsui. The fort was built on a hilltop, providing a strategic vista of a huge section of the river, a coveted harbor, and the lands surrounding. In addition to this strategic panorama the fort offers a spectacular view of Mount Guanyin (觀音山 guānyīn shān) standing majestically at 616 meters tall.
The fort was first built by Spanish colonists in 1628 to establish dominion over local Chinese and the aboriginal population. However, in 1642 the Spanish were driven out by the Dutch and the fort was taken over. In a last ditch effort and to spite the Dutch, the Spanish destroyed the wooden fort by setting it ablaze. In 1644, the Dutch built a new fort, in the same place, and named it “Fort Antonio”. Instead of the original wooden Spanish fort, you can now still find the robust stone fort in Tamsui, shining in all its glory. In 1662 the Dutch rule in Taiwan abruptly came to an end when Koxinga’s (鄭成功Zhèng Chénggōng) army expelled the Dutch by seizing Fort Zeelandia, which you can find in Tainan. Koxinga’s Ming Dynasty ruled over Taiwan for roughly twenty years, until its annexation by the Qing Dynasty in 1683.
The Qing Government renovated the fort in 1724, and then in 1862 the fort was once again renovated. After the renovation in 1862, the fort was rented out to the British Consulate. Over the years a few buildings have been added to the compound, among which the British Consulate Residence. In 1878 Fort Antonio became the official British Consulate. With the start of the Second World War, the consulate was temporarily closed from 1941-1946. Then the fort was seized by the Republic of China (R.O.C.) and offered to the British to use as a consulate again. Despite R.O.C. breaking official diplomatic ties with the United Kingdom in 1950, the consulate remained in operation until in 1972, when the British consulate withdrew and the Australian embassy started managing the fort. Something similar happened again in 1973 when the fort was managed by the Embassy of the United States. Then finally, in 1980, Fort Antonio was officially passed by the United Kingdom to the Republic of China.
Over the course of less than 20 years, the fort has had three different names. The first being the name that the Spanish gave it ‘Fort San Domingo’. The second time it was named after a Dutch administrator in Batavia, Indonesia, his name was Antonio van Diemen, hence the name ‘Fort Antonio’.
By far the most interesting name the fort has had, and what it’s still called today, is given by the Han-immigrants. The Mandarin Chinese name for this fort is 紅毛城 (hóng máo chéng) or “red-haired city”. Red-haired refers to Dutch people, because locals often called the Dutch red-haired people.
Tickets and opening hours
Visiting Fort San Domingo is not expensive at all. For only 80 NTD (roughly 2,40 euros or 2,60 USD) you get access to Fort San Domingo, Hobe Fort and the Little White House (Tamsui Customs Officer's Residence). The three locations are all within walking distance. The ticket is valid for one day, so if you plan on visiting all three locations, make sure you have enough time.
If you are a student you can show your student ID card upon entering and your entrance will be free. There are concession tickets for senior citizens and young children as well.
How to get there
To get there by public transportation, take the Red MRT line all the way to Tamsui Station (淡水捷運站). When you get here, walk over to the bus station, which is underneath the MRT line and take any of the following buses: 836, 837, 857, 880 or R26.
Press the red "stop" button right before you get to Fort San Domingo (Aletheia University) - or in Chinese 紅毛城(真理大學). From here just continue straight and you will reach Fort San Domingo.
If you travel by car or scooter, drive by Fort San Domingo and park in the designated parking lot.
If you want to catch a glimpse of this historical marvel and its spectacular surroundings, join me on this personalized virtual tour.⬇️