The Chinese Venice of Suzhou

chinese-templesSuzhou is one of the most beautiful cities of China. Its the motherland of silk and one of the oldest traditional forms of Chinese opera – Kunqu, listed as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity (UNESCO).

The city is located in the south of the province of Jiangsu and enjoys mild climate and beautiful nature. Marco Polo called Suzhou, this city of canals and gardens 85 km west of Shanghai, the “eastern Venice”. One Chinese proverb even says “There is heaven in the sky, and Suzhou on earth”. Its gardens appeared 2500 years ago and are still the best place to come to and enjoy the world as it is seen by Chinese poets, artists and men of wisdom. But for this they have to arrive there in advance, before crowds of people deprive the gardens of their calm charm. The city had about 250 gardens during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Nowadays there are about a hudred of them left, and only a few are opened for visitors.

Far from a distance the city impresses with its magnificent walls and gates, its ancient pagoda produces a fantastic impression as well. In the old times Suzhou was renowned as “the land of fish and rice”, and this patriarchal appearance is still characteristic for the city. The hubbub and laugh produced by local people is a typical Chinese “song”. There are several attractions not to be missed while staying in Suzhou.

Blue Wave Pavilion (Canglang Ting) is the only garden part of which is not fenced. Moreover, this is the oldest garden in Suzhou. It is filled with the atmosphere of wilderness, decorated with stone hillocks, artificial mounds and bamboo groves. The name of the garden derives from the name of the pavilion built here in 1044.

Humble Administrator’s Garden (Zhuozheng Yuan) is one of the largest and the most beautiful Chinese gardens. Its a magnificent ensemble, with water as its focus: the areas next to its ponds are covered with ornaments of summerhouses and pavilions, the ponds themselves are covered with islets, which can be reached by refined bridges and narrow stone dykes.

Lingering Garden (Liu Yuan) is dominated with a high rock, pavilions are rather big, and its main landmarks are the Yuanyang (mandarin duck) Hall and the luxurious Wufengxian Hall. The garden’s attractions are connected with a corridor 700 meters long. Hundreds of windows with patterned guards are overlooking the rocks, plants and water.

Master of the Nets Garden (Wang Shi Yuan) is Suzhou’s smallest garden. However, its small size is compensated with its elegant layout, which set a good example for other Chinese gardens. Names like the Hall of Captured Grace will help you get inspired with the atmosphere of calm contemplation which former owners created here. In summertime the garden is opened till late. It is illuminated with lanterns while musicians and dancers entertain visitors.

The nine-storied North Temple Pagoda (Beisi) was built in the end of the X century, then reconstructed several times. Visit the pagoda for unforgettable views over the city suburbs. Another city landmark – the leaning Yunyan Pagoda – can be found on the Tiger Hill (Huqiu). It is in fact taller than the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Xuanmiao Guan, or the “Temple of Mystery” is thought to be one of the best local Taoist temples. Built in 276 AD, it was later demolished and rebuilt again. And, finally, a spot not to be missed is the Suzhou Market street, covered with restaurants, shops, stalls, theatres, snack bars, silk stores and confectioner’s.


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