Snail Alley, Tainan’s Whimsical Street

One of Snail Alley’s flamboyant mollusks

photography by: Omri Westmark

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More often than not, literary works remain within the realm of thoughts, never leaving the confines of our minds. That is, unless you are talking about the Snail Alley in Tainan, Taiwan’s oldest city. What was once a cluster of mundane streets turned into an art-filled enclave, where three-dimensional murals, trendy bars and snail-shaped figurines pay homage to a famous Taiwanese novel.

Rare are the cases where an author’s figment of imagination makes its way into the real world. For Tainan, though, that very rarity became a reality when the city carved a piece of densely populated neighborhood and transformed it into a mini art district. Tucked away in Tainan’s Jianguo Borough, Snail Alley is a network of narrow pedestrian lanes, which up until the mid-2010’s was indistinguishable from the nearby unassuming residential blocks.


As a tribute to one of Taiwan’s most illustrious novelists, Yeh Shih-tao, several alleyways across the borough were peppered with a hodgepodge of art installations, inspired by Shih-tao’s work of “The Past is Like a Cloud”. In his book, the Tainan-born writer portrayed an alley, whose laid-back vibes are akin to the pace of a snail, hence its name. Interestingly, prior to his death in 2008, Shih-tao resided in the area, which bears an uncanny resemblance to its imaginary counterpart.


With an ample population of sculpted snails in every nook and cranny, the place now lives up to its whimsical name. In fact, the dozens of shell-dwelling sculptures throughout the area regularly attract curious gawkers who try their best to spot them all. Fashioned from all sorts of castoff materials, the statuettes are mostly easily noticeable, but some are apparently as hard to find as a needle in a haystack.


Besides its sluggish buddies, the snail-infested labyrinth also boasts a series of detailed murals, makeshift bookcases and artworks. Most notably are the unmanned postcard stand in the main square and the multiple pavement tiles whose surface was engraved with lines from Shih-tao’s novel. In recent years, the surrounding streets have been inundated with chic restaurants, cafés and bars, where snail-loving visitors can have a glimpse of Tainan’s sophisticated cuisine.