Known for its rich history that stretches back for millennia, China is home to many relics and architectural works recognized as World Heritages, including ancient towns built centuries ago and preserved to this day.
Fenghuang Old Town – a pearl on the Tuo Jiang River
In Hunan province, the ancient town of Fenghuang (Phoenix) lies upstream on the Tuo Jiang River. Here, a cluster of wooden buildings date back to the early 18th century. After 300 years of ups and downs, this famed Old Town remains well-preserved. It is a famous tourist attraction and iconic landmark, not only for China but all of Asia.
The area in which Fenghuang was built was originally inhabited by people of the Miao and Tujia ethnic groups. Their cultures gave the town its distinctive design features. Solid houses with brown roof tiles rise on stilts beside the poetic riverbank, overlooked by distant majestic mountains. This peaceful town’s houses are neatly situated on both banks of the Tuo Jiang River, linked by beautiful bridges. Varied in shapes and sizes, the bridges are iconic monuments that have witnessed the passage of history. They hold the essence of long ago.
One can’t help but be awed by the unique beauty and age-old ambiance when strolling down narrow cobblestoned roads leading through the town, past pagodas and the ancient residences of medieval nobles and royals.
Zhouzhuang Old Town in Jiangnan
Leaving Hunan and heading east towards the downstream region of the great Yangtze River, you will find the famous province of Jiangsu, whose poetic and picturesque landscapes are unrivaled across China. This region is home to the elegant 900-year-old old town of Zhouzhuang.
While Zhouzhuang is smaller than Fenghuang, it is one of the most ancient and outstanding Old Towns in all of China. Surrounded by interwoven networks of canals, long ago, Zhouzhuang was a bustling commercial hub for the Jiangnan region. What remains is an atmosphere of serenity, with elegant stone bridges, red lanterns hanging from the houses’ roofs, lovely tea shops, and wooden boats gently gliding on the river, carrying sightseeing tourists around the town.
As in many Old Towns, Zhouzhuang‘s residents still live in rustic houses, which also contain restaurants and souvenir shops to serve tourists. Visitors can also enjoy sips of Nu’er Hong at a family-run winery to satisfy their curiosity about this famous traditional Jiangnan wine.
Lijiang – an ancient town beside a snowy peak
Lijiang Old Town is an ancient citadel located in southwest China, near the Myanmar border. Touted as “the diamond of Yunnan province” and embraced by the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, Lijiang Old Town is considered one of the most beautiful ancient towns in China.
Located 2,400 meters above sea level, Lijiang has existed for over 800 years, retaining its pristine charm through many generations. Tourists are often surprised by the town’s antique beauty and the deep-rooted culture of the Yunnan region. To fully appreciate the beauty of Lijiang Old Town and Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, you should find your way to Lion Hill, home to the Wangu Pavilion. From the pavilion, tourists can enjoy a magnificent view of the ancient town, which is embraced by the mountain that is snow-capped all year round. They can also visit Mufu Palace, the so-called “Forbidden City of the South” and former residence of the leaders of Yunnan’s most powerful clan.
Countless praises have been sung extolling the beauty of these charming ancient towns and countless photos have been taken. But nothing can match the feeling of visiting these sites for yourself and discovering layers of cultural richness revealed through their tangible and intangible heritages.