Thursday, October 21, 2021

Matsu Archipelago Has the Highest Concentration of Military Tunnels

Small as it may be, the Matsu Archipelago (馬祖) has the highest concentration of military tunnels in the world. Named after the goddess Matsu (媽祖), it is an archipelago composed of six inhabited islands and 30 uninhabited islets in the northwest of Taiwan.

There are hundreds of military fortifications and tunnels in Taiwan's Matsu Islands. (Image: Billy Shyu / Nspirement)
There are hundreds of military fortifications and tunnels in Taiwan’s Matsu Islands. (Image: Billy Shyu / Nspirement)

Though the Matsu Archipelago is small, with an area of only 29.6 km2 (11.4 mi2), there are numerous military installations that were constructed during the Cold War. According to the Lienchiang County Government (連江縣政府), an astounding 256 tunnels have been recorded, exclusive of those garrisoned by the military at present.

Please watch the following video of military fortifications in Taiwan’s Matsu Archipelago.

Located just 10 kilometers off the coast of China’s Fujian Province, the Matsu Archipelago is the nearest Taiwanese landmass to mainland China.

This M1 240mm howitzer, which is called “Black Dragon,” has kept operational in Matsu's Nangan. (Image: Billy Shyu / Nspirement)
This M1 240mm howitzer, which is called “Black Dragon,” is kept operational at Matsu’s Nangan. (Image: Billy Shyu / Nspirement)

Due to the Matsu Archipelago’s geographical proximity to China, it used to be one of Taiwan’s major military outposts opposing the Chinese communist regime, following the central government’s retreat to Taiwan in 1949.

The entrance of Beihai Tunnel (North Sea Tunnel北海坑道) in Matsu's Nangan. (Image: Billy Shyu / Nspirement)
The entrance of Beihai Tunnel (North Sea Tunnel 北海坑道) in Matsu’s Nangan. (Image: Billy Shyu / Nspirement)

Matsu Archipelago’s military tunnels

After the Matsu Archipelago returned to civilian rule in 1992, some of the tunnels and fortifications have been restored and opened to the public.

The exhibit of the ROC's elite amphibious frogman unit at the Beihai Tunnel. (Image: Julia Fu / Nspirement)
An exhibit of the ROC’s elite amphibious frogman unit at the Beihai Tunnel. (Image: Julia Fu / Nspirement)

The Beihai Tunnel (North Sea Tunnel北海坑道) in Nangan is one of the most striking tunnels. Constructed by some 9,000 soldiers in three shifts from 1969 to 1971, the tunnel was dug deep into the heart of a granite hill.

The Beihai Tunnel (North Sea Tunnel) in Matsu's Nangan Island. (Image: Billy Shyu / Nspirement)
The Beihai Tunnel (North Sea Tunnel) in Matsu’s Nangan Island. (Image: Billy Shyu / Nspirement)

It is 700 meters long, 18 meters high, and 10 meters wide, and the height of the water level inside the tunnel is eight meters at high tide and four meters at low tide. The amazing Beihai Tunnel used to serve as an underground wharf for supply boats, and it could accommodate over 120 landing craft at the same time.

The “Tunnel 88” (八八坑道) in Matsu's Nangan. (Image: Billy Shyu / Nspirement)
Tunnel 88 (八八坑道) in Matsu’s Nangan. (Image: Billy Shyu / Nspirement)

Tunnel 88 (八八坑道) is another iconic tunnel of Nangan. Dug into granite, the tunnel is 273 meters in length. It was named Tunnel 88 to commemorate Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek’s 88th birthday when the tunnel’s reconstruction work was completed in 1974.

Matsu Winery’s old wine and Kaoliang spirits are stored in the Tunnel 88. (Image: Julia Fu / Nspirement)
Matsu Winery’s wine and Kaoliang spirits are stored in Tunnel 88. (Image: Julia Fu / Nspirement)

The tunnel has been used to store Matsu Winery’s wine and Kaoliang spirits since 1992. There are two rows of clay wine pots stacked up on the two sides of the main entrance and is one of the most photographed spots in Nangan.

The entrance of the Dahan Stronghold (大漢據點) in Matsu's Nangan. (Image: Billy Shyu / Nspirement)
The entrance of the Dahan Stronghold (大漢據點) in Matsu’s Nangan. (Image: Billy Shyu / Nspirement)

The Dahan Stronghold (大漢據點) is roughly opposite the Beihai Tunnel. It was completed in 1976, renovated in 2006, and opened to the public in 2007. The Stronghold’s tunnel is about 1.5 meters wide, 2 meters high, and 430 meters long.

The tunnel of the Dahan Stronghold (大漢據點) in Matsu's Nangan. (Image: Billy Shyu / Nspirement)
The tunnel at the Dahan Stronghold (大漢據點) in Matsu’s Nangan. (Image: Billy Shyu / Nspirement)

The Stronghold has three levels. The upper level was the company headquarters, the middle level served as living space and a reserve machine gun emplacement, and the bottom level contained four 90mm anti-aircraft gun emplacements, a briefing room, an assembly hall, and storerooms.

The Iron Fort is a small tunneled fortification that juts onto the coral on the west side of a village in Nangan. (Image: Billy Shyu / Nspirement)
The Iron Fort is a small tunneled fortification that juts onto the coral on the west side of a village in Nangan. (Image: Billy Shyu / Nspirement)

The Iron Fort (鐵堡) is one of the most popular military attractions in the Matsu archipelago. Constructed in a coral rock and covered with cement painted in camouflage colors, the Iron Fort is seemingly a prominent rock projection protruding into the sea.

The Iron Fort is one of Matsu's most popular military attractions nowadays. (Image: Billy Shyu / Nspirement)
The Iron Fort is one of Matsu’s most popular military attractions nowadays. (Image: Billy Shyu / Nspirement)

Inside the tunnel, there is a soldier’s living area, a machine gun and artillery emplacements, an arsenal, a meeting room, a toilet, and a kitchen. There are also glass shards embedded on the surface of the coral rock to prevent mainland frogmen from conducting a surprise attack at night. The Iron Fort was the only fortification that had an exclusive structure to house military dogs with ranks.

The entrance of the “Checkpoint 23” (西莒23哨) in Matsu’s Juguang Island. (Image: Billy Shyu / Nspirement)
The entrance of Checkpoint 23 (西莒23哨) in Matsu’s Juguang Island. (Image: Billy Shyu / Nspirement)

There are also some other fortresses in the Matsu Archipelago that have been restored and turned into tourist sites. Take for instance Checkpoint 23 (西莒23哨) in Matsu’s Juguang (莒光).

There are various army flags, a counterfeit carbine, a gas mask, and other military gear displayed at “Checkpoint 23”in Matsu’s Juguang Island. (Image: Billy Shyu / Nspirement)
There are various army flags, a replica carbine, a gas mask, and other military gear displayed at Checkpoint 23 in Matsu’s Juguang Island. (Image: Billy Shyu / Nspirement)

This abandoned military structure has been renovated by Qingfan Community Development Association (青帆社區發展協會) since 2017. With various army flags, a replica carbine, a gas mask, and other military gear on display, Checkpoint 23 has become a popular spot for those who visit Xiju (西莒).

The “Stronghold 12” (南竿12據點) is turned into a cozy cafe and bookstore. (Image: Billy Shyu / Nspirement)
Stronghold 12 (南竿12據點) was turned into a cozy café and bookstore. (Image: Billy Shyu / Nspirement)

Among the 90-plus military fortifications in Nangan, the formerly abandoned Stronghold 12 (南竿12據點) has become a popular tourist destination with a nice cultural ambiance. Restored and decorated by Tsao Yi-hsiung, former director of the Lienchiang County Government’s Cultural Affairs Department, the tunnel of this military facility has been transformed into the cozy Thorn Bird Coffee & Bookstore (刺鳥咖啡書店).

The bookstore at the “Stronghold 12” (南竿12據點) in Matsu's Nangan. (Image: Billy Shyu / Nspirement)
The bookstore at Stronghold 12 (南竿12據點) in Matsu’s Nangan. (Image: Billy Shyu / Nspirement)

With the café bookstore’s unique geographical location and breathtaking scenery, not only is it a popular destination for tourists, but it was also visited by Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen in October.

The Thorn Bird Coffee & Bookstore  (刺鳥咖啡書店) at the “Stronghold 12." (Image: Billy Shyu / Nspirement)
The Thorn Bird Coffee & Bookstore (刺鳥咖啡書店) at the “Stronghold 12.” (Image: Billy Shyu / Nspirement)

Another popular old military tunnel is the Prayer Tunnel (祈福坑道) at the Matsu Religious Culture Park  (媽祖宗教文化園區) in Nangan. The tunnel is beneath the world’s tallest statue of the sea goddess Matsu, which is 29.6 meters high (identical to the total area of the Matsu Archipelago).

The Prayer Tunnel is decorated LED lights to make it more colorful. (Image: Julia Fu / Nspirement)
The Prayer Tunnel is decorated with LED lights to make it warmer. (Image: Julia Fu / Nspirement)

The tunnel is 332 meters long, but only 132 meters of it is opened to the public at present. After the tunnel was decorated with LED lights on the two sides and the stairs, the tunnel was brighter and warmer.

The Prayer Tunnel (祈福坑道) at the Matsu Religious Culture Park . (Image: Julia Fu / Nspirement)
The Prayer Tunnel (祈福坑道) at the Matsu Religious Culture Park. (Image: Julia Fu / Nspirement)

Additionally, to conform to local customs, a Matsu sedan chair was installed at the entrance of the tunnel, which has enhanced the religious ambiance and auspicious meanings of the tunnel.

The entrance of the Andong Tunnel in Matsu's Dongyin. (Image: Matsu National Scenic Area Administration)
The entrance of the Andong Tunnel in Matsu’s Dongyin. (Image: Matsu National Scenic Area Administration)

Andong Tunnel (安東坑道) in Dongyin (東引) is another must-visit military installation in Mastu. With a total length of 641 meters, the tunnel penetrates through the mountain. There are 464 steps in the first 260 meters near the entrance, which gently slope downward at a 30-degree angle.

The Andong Tunnel in Matsu's Dongyin. (Image: Matsu National Scenic Area Administration)
The Andong Tunnel in Matsu’s Dongyin. (Image: Matsu National Scenic Area Administration)

The tunnel was constructed in the 1970s, restored in 2002, and opened to the public in 2004. Today, visitors can still see the eight outlook holes leading to the seashore, and other facilities including arsenals, living quarters, assembly hall, and even a pigsty.

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Billy Shyu
Billy has a liking for the beauty of nature and authentic traditonal culture. He has published over 100 articles on the beauty of Taiwan, traditional culture, and other interesting topics. He will continue to share more interesting articles with our readers
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