The port city of KEELUNG (基隆; jīlóng), sandwiched between verdant mountains and northern Taiwan’s best natural harbour, is a strategic location that has been fought over by foreign powers since the seventeenth century. Though it’s a typically modern Taiwanese city, home to around 400,000 people, its setting is picturesque and there’s plenty to see: numerous fortresses, a legacy of the city’s violent past, the Fairy Cave, one of Taiwan’s most atmospheric shrines, an easy-to-navigate night market and the country’s largest and most illuminating Ghost Festival, held every August.
The Spanish first established an outpost on Heping Island near Keelung in 1626, when the area was inhabited by the Ketagalan, who called it “Kelang”. In 1642 the Dutch kicked out the Spaniards after a bloody siege, but they abandoned their last stronghold in Taiwan in 1668. Chinese immigrants began to arrive in large numbers in 1723 and the town became an important port in the nineteenth century, making it a regular target for foreign powers; during the 1841 Opium War a British squadron shelled the harbour, while in the Sino-French War the city was occupied by the French for eight months. The harbour was almost completely destroyed by Allied bombing at the end of World War II, and the postwar years saw a gradual rebuilding of its facilities – it’s now Taiwan’s second-biggest container port after Kaohsiung.