A symbol and monument of the colonial history of Taiwan, Fort San Domingo, was handed over by the central government to Taipei County Government yesterday.
The handover ceremony yesterday morning was celebrated with loud traditional big-drum beating, performed by elementary school pupils, and Taiwanese folk songs performed by local singers.
"It's like attending my daughter's wedding ceremony," said Yu Chen-hsien (余政憲), head of the Ministry of Interior.
The fort is a famous historic site and has been overlooking the northwestern Tamsui River estuary for over three and a half centuries.
According to the Cultural Assets Preservation Act (文化資產保護法), the local governments are the administrators of important national relics.
"However, Fort San Domingo is an exception, because the central government wanted to make it known to the world that this fort is ours, and no longer occupied by any extraneous regime," said Wu Mi-cha (吳密察), vice-chairman of the Council for Cultural Affairs(文建會).
"Therefore, the Ministry of the Interior had been the administrator until today," Wu said.
The maintenance and overall management of this historic site will now no longer be the central government's responsibility.
The fort, having been occupied and abandoned several times by different foreign regimes, has been seen as an encapsulation of Taiwan's history.
Built by the Spanish in 1629, Fort San Domingo soon became the Dutch colonizers' bridgehead, and the history of Dutch occupation gave this fort its better-known name "Hung Mao Cheng," or "red-haired devil's fort."
"Standing before Fort San Domingo, you will realize how small we are," said Taipei County Magistrate Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌).
"In the past 350 years, the handover of this fort has always gone hand-in-hand with fights and mass killings," he said.
In the late 17th century, Koxinga (鄭成功), son of a Chinese pirate, defeated the Dutch and took control of the fort before the Chinese renegade regime he founded was destroyed by the Ching Dynasty.
"Since then the British came, then the Japanese, and the British presided over it again after World War II," said Lee Chian-lang (李乾朗), an associate professor of folk arts at National Taipei University.
"When I was a boy, this fort was still used by the British government as its Consulate," he said.
The KMT government took over Fort San Domingo in 1980 after a series of negotiations with the British.
"Trapped as we are in history, we Taiwanese are miserable, but we also feel proud of ourselves," Magistrate Su said.
Now Fort San Domingo is not the headquarters of any colonial regime any more and has become one of the most famous historic sites in Taiwan.
The new administrator, the Cultural Affairs Bureau of Taipei County, has planned to make it the hub of the planned Tamsui Park of Historic Sites.
The maintainance of Fort San Domingo may be a financial burden for Taipei County.
Its upkeep amounts to NT$23 million a year, plus an amount of NT$37 million for re-construction fees, according to Lin Pe-yu (林泊佑), director of the bureau.
"But we are confident to maintain and operate this historic site very well," Lin said.