Built in 1908, the museum is quite young by local architectural standards, but it is still the oldest museum on the island. However, it wasn’t always the National Taiwan Museum. It was first established while the region was under Japanese colonial rule and was originally named the Taiwan Governor Museum. It was first located in an area to the rear of the Presidential Palace; it moved to its current location in 1915.
The first was the Taiwan Governor Museum while under Japanese colonial rule. Then in 1949, after the Chinese Civil War, the museum came under the control of the Taiwan Provincial Government and was named the Taiwan Provincial Museum. And finally, in 1999, twelve years after martial law ended, the central government gave the museum its current and hopefully last name, National Taiwan Museum.
The lobby of the main building has a spectacular stained glass window in the ceiling that, although refurbished over the years, is still the same original design from the museum’s inauguration day. It’s an impressive sight and one that many tourists completely miss on the trip to the museum.
For many years, the local tribes of Taiwan lived a persecuted life. In the last twenty years, the Taiwanese government has done much to try to preserve those cultures that were once under threat. The permanent exhibition at the museum is one such effort, and it is the perfect place to learn about the history of Taiwan’s indigenous tribes.
There is museum staff, and then there is the National Taiwan Museum staff. The people that watch over the permanent exhibitions are extremely knowledgeable and eager to help out visitors. Most speak fluent English and will gladly walk you through their entire section explaining each exhibit in turn.
As is quite apparent by its name, the Land Bank Exhibition Hall used to be a bank. Here visitors have the opportunity to check out the counting rooms and the old safes that were once used by the Kangyo Bank built on the site during Japanese colonial rule. It’s located across the street opposite the main building and also houses the museum’s paleontology exhibits.
Although it’s small and has limited seating, the restaurant in the Land Bank Exhibition Hall serves up some great food. A good tip is to visit the Land Bank Hall first and pop into the restaurant. If you give them your number, they will call you when a seat is available.
An easy-to-miss floor is the basement in the main building. Here, there are a couple of small permanent exhibitions about Taiwan’s natural resources, and there’s usually also a temporary exhibition of some kind. The temporary exhibits in the basement are often quite fun, occasionally touching on the quirkier side of Taiwanese history.