Built in the Song Dynasty (960–1279), Tongli Ancient Town is nestled to the east of Beijing–Hangzhou Grand Canal, by Taihu Lake, Wujiang District, Suzhou, 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Suzhou, and 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Shanghai.
It is one of the six famous ancient towns to the south of the Yangtze River along with Zhouzhuang, Yongzhi, Xitang, Wuzhen, and Nanxun.
Tongli is famous all over the world as a water town to the south of the Yangtze River. Its rivers, streets, bridges, civil residences, and gardens are integrated perfectly as one, earning it the name of "the Oriental Venice" due to its unique water town scenery
Tongli has been open to the public since 1986, and the architectures and cultural relics of the Ming (1368–1644) and the Qing (1644–1911) dynasties, such as pavilions, towers, temples, and gardens, can be seen everywhere.
The most well-known gardens of Tongli include Tuisi Garden, Chongben Hall, and Jiayin Hall, and all feature a perfect combination of practical residences and artistic gardens to the south of the Yangtze River.
Designed by Yuan Long and built from 1885 to 1887, Tuisi Garden is in the plain but elegant style of the late Qing Dynasty, and half of it is covered by water. All the buildings are situated close to the surface of the water in the garden.
It was listed as a World Cultural Heritage site by UNESCO in 2001, and it is a classic architectural example of the south of the Yangtze River.
Built in the first year of the Republic of China (1911–1949), Jiayin Hall is in Loujia Lane, Zhuxing Street.
Jiayin Hall has four courtyards with carved beams and painted rafters, which originally cost about 20,000 taels of silver.
Guarded by stone-paved riverbanks, Chongben Hall is nestled to the north of Changqing Bridge in Fuguan Street. It faces Jiayin Hall across the river in the east and connects Changqing Bridge in the west.
If we think of Tongli as an ancient museum, Chongben Hall is considered to be a piece of delicately-carved handicraft belonging to the museum.
Surrounded by five lakes, Tongli is lined with streets and lanes alongside rivers, and numerous ancient bridges built in various dynasties are available. Some bridges still stand as highlights in Tongli, silently telling the stories and legends of the ancient town.
The Three Bridges refer to Taiping Bridge (built in 1913), Jili Bridge (built in 1987), and Changqing Bridge (built in 1470 and rebuilt in 1704), each of which has its own unique meaning for the locals.
It is a custom for the locals to walk across the three bridges during happy events, such as a wedding ceremony. It symbolizes good health throughout the year by walking across Taiping Bridge, to benefit from having a prosperous business in the coming year by walking across Jili Bridge, and it means having an evergreen life by walking across Changqing Bridge.
The oldest bridge of Tongli, Siben Bridge was built in the Southern Song Dynasty (1127–1279), and it still stands after being exposed to the wind and rain for over 700 years.
Also known as the Little East Stream Bridge, Pu'an Bridge was constructed in the first year (1506) of the Emperor Zhengde Period during the Ming Dynasty. Pu'an Bridge is the most representative bridge that reflects the locals'diligence and eagerness to gain knowledge, and a pair of couplets is engraved in the western part of the bridge.
The most mysterious bridge of Tongli, Fuguan Bridge features a vivid stone carving called "the Fish Fossil in the Peach Blossom Wave".
The legend went that a fish swam against the waves along the peach-blossom covered riverbank, hoping to become an immortal dragon by jumping over the Dragon Gate in March. However, it spied a beautiful girl on the bridge as it sprung into the air and, as a result, its head that was above the Dragon Gate became a dragon's head, while its body that was below the Dragon Gate remained as it was.
Many narrow and long lanes are situated among the streets of Tongli, most of which are hollow and stone-paved, and some wind their way for over 300 meters (328 yards).
Cangchang Lane (neighboring Fuguan Street) only allows one person to walk along it at a time, with both of its ends serving as riverbanks, earning it the nickname "One Person Lane".
The streets of Tongli have an antique flavor. The 160-meter (175-yard) long Mingqing Street preserves its original style from the Ming and the Qing dynasties. It is stone-paved and lined with stores on both sides, including specialty stores, handicraft stores, and snack stores.
There are eight major streets in Tongli Ancient Town: Zhuxing Street, Fuguan Street, Xinzhen Street, Shangyuan Street, Sanyuan Street, Dongxi Street, Yuxing Street, and Nanxing Street.
The eight streets are different from one another in style — some are quiet, some are partially hidden in trees, some are by the river, and some are crammed with stores — each of which is impressive.
Tongli is rich in rivers and bridges; therefore, it is essential to take a cruise in order to appreciate its antique beauty. A number of ancient architecture clusters from the Ming and the Qing dynasties are displayed before your eyes.
Travelers spending a night in Tongli are recommended to sip a cup of tea or just wander in the gardens during the night to explore its beauty in an aesthetic way.
Meeting of the Immortals
As a regional activity held annually on April 14, Tongli's Meeting of the Immortals is highlighted by stilt walking, boating, and rowing.
The night cruise along Tongli is also launched each Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night, offering people an excellent opportunity to appreciate the traditional stringed and woodwind music found to the south of the Yangtze River.
A number of high-end hotels, featured hostels, and inns are available in Tongli. Most hotels are well-equipped with modern service facilities, such as Wi-Fi; therefore, guests with various preferences can choose accordingly.
The high-end hotels usually cost about 1,000 yuan per room per night, and the others range from 100 yuan per room to 500 yuan per room per night. The room rates will be a little higher in the peak season.
Railway: Those traveling to Tongli usually take a bullet train to Suzhou North Railway Station, or a slower train to Suzhou Railway Station. Sightseeing buses, which operate every 20 minutes at a rate of 8 yuan per person, take 45 minutes to reach Tongli. It takes about 80 yuan to get from Suzhou Railway Station to Tongli by taxi.
The buses from Hangzhou East Bus Station (operating every half an hour at a fare of 50 yuan per person) take passengers to Suzhou Bus Station within two hours, and then a sightseeing bus can be taken to Tongli.
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