Old Taiwan railway relics tell stories of war, history

07/06/2020 05:09 PM
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Taipei, July 6 (CNA) Built in 1943, the cone-shape emergency shelter that stands in the Railway Department Park in the center of Taipei was a "War Command Center" used by Japanese colonizers during the Pacific War.

Today it serves as a monument that teaches visitors about the war and the history of Taiwan.

The bomb shelter is one of six national historical monuments at the park, the site of the old Railway Department of the General Governor of Taiwan during the Japanese occupation era from 1895-1945 and then the Taiwan Railways Administration headquarters for the next seven decades.

The complex, which occupies 1.7 hectares of land surrounded by Zhongxiao West Road, Tacheng Street, Zhengzhou Road and Yanping North Road, was designated a national historic site in 2007 and then underwent a renovation presided over by the National Taiwan Museum (NTM).

Affiliated with the museum, the Railway Department Park was formally inaugurated Monday as a tribute to the transportation, economic, and cultural development of Taiwan. It will be open for public visits starting Tuesday. 

Located on the northwest side of the park, the shelter was originally built with a dome roof and for the use of senior level staff at the Railway Department Office.

Its cone appearance did not emerge until 1957 when the Kuomintang government reinforced the structure to protect it from bombs in the Chinese Civil War.

Behind its explosion-proof iron gate there's access toward the underground section of the shelter, where a railway map of Taiwan, including stations, bridges, rivers and tunnels, can be seen on the wall.

The bomb shelter is particularly meaningful to a German railway museum curator who visited the park two years ago and said there were similar, though much bigger, shelters in Germany during the Cold War, NTM assistant research fellow Lin I-hung (林一宏) told CNA.

At Monday's opening ceremony, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said the historical architecture is a tangible cultural asset that showcases invaluable intangible assets, such as craftsmanship, and she urged the public to not forget about the country's rich cultural assets.

The centerpiece of the Railway Department Park is the Railway Department Office, which was designed and built by Japanese architect Matsunosuke Moriyama, the designer of the Presidential Office, and completed in 1918.

The park also includes a cafeteria, an octagon male wash room, an electrical room, a construction room and the War Command Center, all designated national historical monuments, and two city-designated historical relics -- the Machinery Bureau from the Qing Dynasty and the Taipei Railway Factory.

Only core Railway Department staffers were allowed access to Railway Department Office made of bricks and wood, said Lin, who has been involved in researching and restoring the site since 1993.

With its opening to the public, "people will be able to enter by purchasing a ticket and acquire knowledge and create new memories," he said.

"To me, it is the liberation of space, and also represents Taiwan's progress in the restoration of historical sites," Lin said. 

(By Sabine Cheng and Elizabeth Hsu)

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