Shuinandong, Ruifang District, New Taipei City 224, Taiwan (ROC)
The gold rush hastened the village of Jiufen and Jinguashi into prosperous gold mining towns until the 1950s, when mining was discontinued and the area went into sharp decline. A trip to Jinguashi allows you to peek into its golden days merely a few decades ago with visits to several sites that contributed to the heyday of gold mining industry in Taiwan, among which Shuinandong Smelter is the most iconic.
Established during the Japanese Colonial Era, Shuinandong Smelter was the largest in Asia at the time. It was built to treat gold and copper ores, which were abundant and of high grade in the area. The smelter structure is built into a hillside, whose tiered construction is what lends it the name “the Remains of the 13 Levels” (十三層遺址). However, if you take a closer look, there is a total of 18 levels. Following the Japanese surrender at the end of World War II and Taiwan’s restoration in 1945, Taiwan Gold and Copper Mining Bureau was established in 1946 to oversee the mining industry. Unfortunately, as gold deposits ran dry, the once lustrous gold industry went through a downturn and never really recovered. The newly renamed “Taiwan Metal Company” therefore shifted its focus to the burgeoning copper market, which later suffered a rapid crash as the cost of extraction and purification of copper became an infeasible burden.
The fortress-like appearance is mysterious enough, but Shuinandong Smelter also boasts one of the world's longest concrete pipeline ventilation systems — more than 1,000 meters long! The toxic emissions from the copper smelter once threatened the health of residents and workers for kilometers around. As a result, the authority constructed three pipelines to carry harmful gases over the mountains and away from the plant and nearby inhabited areas. For the past few years, Jiufen and Jinguashi has experienced a boost in tourism. The abandoned Shuinandong Smelter is alive again with enthusiastic visitors who are keen to explore the surreal remains of bygone days that whisper the history of prosperity and decline.