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Holidays : China: Jiangsu : Suzhou Attractions : Suzhou Gardens

Suzhou Gardens

 Suzhou is China's well-known "city of gardens", which tops all gardens in both the number and the artistry. Suzhou's art of gardening has undergone a history of 1,500 years. According to chorography, there were once over 200 gardens in the city, and 69 of them are still in good preservation today.  

Suzhou gardens seek the return to Nature and the cultivation of temperament, with hills and waters, flowers and trees, pavilion, terraces, towers and halls composing the basic garden elements.  

Suzhou gardens have their own characteristics in layout, structure and style. The Four Classical Gardens of Suzhou, namely, the Surging Waves Pavilion, the Lion Grove Garden, the Humble Administrator's Garden and the Lingering Garden, respectively represent the different styles of Song (960-1279), Yuan (1271-1368), Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. 

 The Canglang Pavilion 

 
Canglang Pavilion, also named the Surging Waves Pavilion and located south of Suzhou City, is the oldest garden among the existing classical gardens of Suzhou. The area used to be the private garden of a Prince of the Five Dynasties (907-960). During the Northern Song Dynasty, the scholar Su Zimei built a pavilion in the garden and named it Canglang Pavilion.  

The garden, connected by a long roofed walkway, features a range of man-made mountains on the inside and waterscapes on the outside. To enter the garden, one must proceed past an expanse of water over a zigzag bridge of stone and through the entrance. It is at this point that one catches sight of a man-made mountain covered with age-old trees and bamboos. 

The Mingdao Hall (Enlightened Way Hall), located to the south of the mountains, is the major building of the garden. It was said to have been a site for lectures during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Surrounded by verdant trees, it appears simple but dignified. On the walls of the hall hang three rubbings of the Song Dynasty steles, which are pictures of astronomy, Song Dynasty vehicles and a map of Pingjiang (today's Suzhou) in the Song Dynasty. Inside the hall there is a wall inlaid with more than 500 stone statuaries of figures related to the history of Suzhou.  

In the southwest part of the garden is a stone cave in rockeries, on which stands a pavilion for people to enjoy scenery in Suzhou. 

 The Lion Grove Garden 

 
Located in the northeast part of Suzhou City, the Lion Grove Garden is the representative of gardens of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). It was first built in 1350 by Monk Tianru and his disciples, as a memorial to their master, Monk Zhongfeng. Because there were a lot of grotesque rocks in the garden resembling lions, the garden was thus named as the Lion Grove. With an area of 10,000 square meters, the Lion Grove Garden has reputed as the "Kingdom of Rockery" for a long time.  

Covering nearly half of the total area of the garden, these rockworks, made from Taihu Lake limestone, were ingeniously piled up in layers to form peaks, crags, valleys and caverns. There're 9 mountain paths, 21 caves, and innumerable grotesque rocks, many of them resembling lions with different and striking poses, such as dancing lions, roaring lions, a couple of fighting lions, and lions playing with a ball.  

It was said that Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty once visited here and wrote an inscription "Zhenqu" (True Delight) to describe the beauty of the garden, which is now hung on the True Delight Pavilion. The long corridor zigzags throughout the garden, with walls carved with 67 pieces of calligraphy works of famous Chinese calligraphers. Other famous architectures include Wen Tianxiang Poem Steles Pavilion and Imperial Steles Pavilion, etc. 

 The Lingering Garden  

 
With an area of 30 mu (2 hectares) and situated outside the Cang Gate of Suzhou City, the Lingering Garden was originally the East Garden of Xu Shiqin in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), later it became the property of Liu Rongfeng of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and was renamed Haibi Villa, popularly known as "Liu Garden". In the 12th year (1873) of the reign of Tongzhi, it was purchased, expanded and overhauled by the new owner, Sheng famlily, who renamed it "the Lingering Garden". 

Today, centering the pond, the garden is separated into the eastern, middle, northern and western parts. To the south of the pond are groupings of garden courts and elegant buildings, such as Mingse Building; to the north are rockeries and pavilions; to the west are rockeries with a long corridor zigzagging to all parts of the garden; and to the east are zigzag corridors and Guanyun Courtyard which is best famous for its 6.6-meter-high and 5-ton-weighty Guanyun Peak, the only complete Taihu Lake limestone and the biggest among the rockworks in Suzhou gardens. 

 The Humble Administrator's Garden  

 
The Humble Administrator's Garden is the representative of gardens in Suzhou. Around 1513 during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the imperial inspector Wang Xianchen, being sick of officialdom, returned to Suzhou after retiring from public life and built this garden and named it The Humble Administrator's Garden. 

Focused on a central pond with pavilions, terraces, chambers, and towers located nearby, the garden is divided into three parts: the eastern, middle and western parts.  

The eastern part features mountains and ponds, with Suxiang Hall and Lanxue Hall as the representative architectures. The main building, Mandarin Duck Hall, was where the master used to entertain his guests with operas and other performances. 

The middle part of the garden is the cream of all, featuring the Lotus Pond, Yuanxiang Hall and two mountain islands. In this area there are several pavilions which are suitable for sightseers to enjoy the sceneries around the lotus pond. It has marvelous mountains, clear water, exquisite buildings and exuberant trees and flowers, reminiscent of the scenery in Southland.  

Humble Administrator's Garden is a typical example of the art of horticulture south of Yangtze River as well as a treasure house containing arts of architecture, calligraphy, carving, painting, and bonsai. It was listed as cultural relics of national importance in 1961. 

 The Jichang Garden  

The Jichang Garden, also named the Garden for Ease of Mind and located at the eastern foot of Huishan Hill and north side of Huishan Temple, is a noted ancient garden in southern China. In the early Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Qin Jin, a military official in Nanjing, made the place into a villa garden. Later it renamed Jichang Garden. Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) was so impressed by its design that he ordered an imitation of the garden to be built in the Summer Palace in Beijing which was named the Garden of Harmonious Interest. 

Covering only 15 mu (1 hectare), with Huishan Hill on its east and Xishan Hill on its southeast, the Jichang Garden was built in such an ingenious manner that it seems to absorb the picturesque surroundings, giving to its confines an impression of infinite space. It seems as if both Xishan Hill and Huishan Hill are a part of the garden. The garden is divided into two parts: the eastern part, mainly composed of water ponds and pavilions, and the western part, mainly luxuriant forests and exquisite rockeries. 

 The Garden of the Master of the Nets  

 
The Garden of the Master of the Nets, located on Shiquan Street in Suzhou City with a total area of 0.54 hectares, is the smallest garden in Suzhou -- half the size of the Canglang Pavilion and one-tenth the size of the Humble Administrator's Garden.  

The garden was laid out during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), abandoned, and then restored in the 18th century as part of the residence of a retired official. It was said that the official announced that he had had enough of bureaucracy and would rather be a fish man. Hence came its name.  

The main garden, occupying about four fifth of the total area of the garden, is situated northwest of the residential area with a pond in the center. Comparing with the normal architecture in the east residential area, the garden architecture appears freer and was suitable for reading, painting, viewing, resting, sipping tea and holding small banquets.  

The pond, covering an area of about 440 square meters, has a tiny arch bridge named Yinjing Bridge (Leading to Quietude Bridge) in its end. The bridge, with a total length of 212cm and a width of 29.5cm, is the smallest arch bridge in the garden.  

To the west of the main garden is the inner garden, which covers an area of 1 mu (about 667 square meters). Halls, pavilions, springs, plants, and verandas are scattering here and there in this garden, fully embodying the cream of the layout of the Suzhou gardens. The Dianchun Studio, a solitary courtyard in this part, enjoys a quiet environment, and features the architectural style of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). 

The most striking features of the Garden of the Master of the Nets are: all pavilions in it are surrounded by water; and small as its size is, the scale of the building is large, but nothing appears cramped.  

 The Garden of Pleasance (Yi Yuan) 

The Garden of Pleasance, situated along the Renmin Street in downtown Suzhou, was the residence of Wu Kuan in the Ming Dynasty. During the reign of Guangxu of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), its ownership shifted to Gu Wenbin, who spent seven years expanding it to an area of more than 8 mu (15mu = 1 hectare). The garden is divided into two parts -- the east and the west -- and in between, there is a two-layered corridor, which has windows on the wall and is decorated with varied patterns.  

The eastern part mainly consists of two pavilions, one hut and one hall, and courtyard architectures, surrounded by winding corridors. In the courtyards flowers and trees are planted in the front, decorated with lake limestone. The eastern part, focus of the whole garden, is mainly composed of mountain and water sceneries. A narrow pond runs from the east to west in the middle, surrounded by mountain stones, flowers and trees. 

The Garden of Pleasance is noted for three features: the large numbers of rocks from lake, stones carved with calligraphic works, and abundant flowers and trees. Compact layout, zigzag arrangement, ponds, flowers and birds, and a large number of pavilions in the garden are really appealing to tourists. 

 The Mountain Villa with Embracing Beauty 

The Mountain Villa with Embracing Beauty, situated at No. 262 of Jingde Road, was originally the site of Qian's Jingu Garden. After several times of ownership changes and expansions, the garden was renamed Huanxiu Shanzhuang (the Mountain Villa with Embracing Beauty), also called Yi Yuan, during the reign of Daoguang of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).  

The villa is celebrated for its unusual limestone rockery. Within an area of 500 square meters, this man-made mountain, with high peaks, dells, pathways, caverns, stone house, stone steps, ravines, precipices, gullies, bridges and cliffs, has a natural appearance. At its summit are towering old trees, and at its foot, murmuring streams.  

The Mountain Villa with Embracing Beauty is surrounded by pines, cypress, yulan and so on. The trees form a green wall and flowers send out fragrance, adding vitality to the surrounding mountains, ponds and architectures.

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