Jiangsu province -> Suzhou city
Suzhou is one of the oldest towns in the Yangtze basin, founded in about 600 BC but really making it's fame one thousand years later when the Grand Canal was up and running. The great location that the city affords helped Suzhou become a prosperous trading area and the silk industry especially boomed here. By the 14th Century, Suzhou had become the leading silk producer in China and this quaint little retreat became popular with visitors from the imperial court at Hangzhou. Artists, scholars and painters all retreated to this "Venice of the East" to seek inspiration and to relax.
Suzhou was one of the few city's in China to escape the ravages of the cultural revolution and its famous gardens survived almost intact. It is the gardens here, which are the most famous attraction in the city. The gardens embody the harmonious principles of Chinese garden construction which dictate that gardens should attempt to create a microcosm of the universe in a confined space. Amongst the most charming are the Garden of the Master of the Nets and the Humble Administrators Garden. The intimate gardens here are particularly pleasant on a misty day and Suzhou's narrow streets and lanes can be very romantic and relaxing.
Suzhou's cultural sites and temples are also worth a visit. Hanshan Temple's distinctive atmosphere and construction are unforgettable. The Temple of Mystery and West Garden Temple are both excellent examples of Daoist and Buddhist tradition respectively. Also, Tiger Hill is a great spot to explore and spend a lazy afternoon in a historical setting. Suzhou's profound cultural and historical background as an ancient capital have helped make this one of China's premier tourism cities.
| Tiger Hill|
|Tiger Hill Park is simply one of Suzhou's greatest attractions! Within the park walls, there are lots of great sights, filled with history and legend. All in all, this is great place for a picnic or an afternoon of exploring. |
Tiger Hill (Huqiu) is the final resting place of the ruler of ancient Suzhou, He Lu. The area was named Tiger Hill after a tiger was seen lying on He Lu's tomb. One of Tiger Hill's most famous spots is Sword Pond (Jianchi). He Lu was a famous warrior and sword collector and the Sword Pond is said to hold He Lu's treasured swords in its watery depths.
Tiger Hill also houses the Yunyan Pagoda, that has been leaning since the before the Qing Dynasty. Today this 1000-year-old (from the Sui Dynasty) pagoda has become a symbol of Suzhou.
Last, but certainly not least, the Wanjing Villa (Wanjing Shanzhuang) is simply one of Huqiu's best attractions. Wanjing Villa is a garden of potted landscapes and "bonzai-style" shrubs, covering an area of about 1700 square meters. Some are the potted landscapes are quite small and some are not potted at all, but are small displays set up like miniature Suzhou gardens. All are intended to evoke images of marvelous mountain and forest scenery in the viewer's mind.
| Garden of the Master of the Nets|
|The Garden of the Master of the Nets (Wangshiyuan) is the best and most celebrated of all the Suzhou gardens. This combined Qing Dynasty residence and garden is also the smallest of the Suzhou gardens. |
The Garden of the Master of the Nets is truly a masterpiece. The effective use of space is the most impressive thing about this garden. Rock arrangements and beautiful fish pools balance each other as do the house and garden sections. The garden also contains many examples of using lattice windows to frame scenes of flowers or bamboo.
In the early 1980s, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York used the Dianchunyi Court section (located in the western part of the inner garden) as a model for a Ming style garden.
This garden is very small and as such, we recommend that you visit during an off-peak time to beat the crowds. Winter is the quietest time in Suzhou and even in Spring or Summer, going in the early morning may allow you a bit more peace and quiet.
| West Garden Temple|
|West Garden Temple (Xiyuan Si) is a one of Suzhou's active temples and a beautiful garden combined! In the garden section of the West Garden Temple, there is a pool where Buddhist worshippers have placed fish and other wetlife. The creatures are ritually "set free" into the pool and taken care of by the temple. |
In the temple section of the complex, the Hall of the 500 Arhats is particularly interesting. In the center of the Hall stands a 13 meter high statue of Guanyin Bodhisattva with 1000 eyes and 1000 hands, made of a single piece of sandalwood. Not far from that statue is a unique Buddha statue whose face has four sides with four different expressions. It is said that the four sides represent the four sacred mountains of Chinese Buddhism and the Buddhas worshipped at each sacred mountain.
This is an active temple and the crowds can get rather large, especially on weekends and Chinese holidays. Visiting in the morning may help keep crowds down.
| Hanshan Temple|
|Hanshan Temple (Hanshan Si) is one of Suzhou's greatest landmarks and most active Buddhist temples. This temple is an important part of Suzhou's local community and cultural life. Built during the Liang Dynasty (502-519), more than 1400 years ago, the temple is named after the famous monk of that dynasty, Hanshan. |
The Hanshan Temple with its dark roof tiles and yellow walls can be seen very clearly amongst the surrounding pine and cypress trees. The main buildings and towers of the Temple complex offer a good view of the area.
Chinese tourists love to buy tickets to ring the bell in the Bell Tower as this act of Buddhist devotion is said to bring good luck, but they probably just do it for fun!
| Lion Grove|
|Lion Grove (Shizilin) is arguably Suzhou's best example of using a garden to evoke images in the mind. Taihu lake rock arrangements display leonine forms throughout the garden. Lion Grove pleases the mind with discoveries around every corner as you use your imagination to appreciate the forms around you. |
This garden is not very large and gets crowded relatively quickly. Going early to beat the crowds could help. A visit here can be followed by a visit to the larger Humble Administrator's Garden not far to the north on Dongbeijie.