Tongli is an ancient but very well preserved water township with a history of more than 1,000 years. Located on the eastern shore of Taihu Lake, just 18 kilometers (11 miles) from Suzhou City, the town is 63 square kilometers (24 square miles) in area. From ancient times, it has been teeming with poets, painters, Confucian scholars and government officials. Dozens of stone tablets from different periods are preserved here and many of the streets are named after their official titles. True to its reputation, Tongli is a really wonderful travel destination where you can spend a marvelous holiday or experience traditional Chinese culture.
Tongli deserves its reputation of a 'museum of ancient architectures' as there are good many houses and temples dating from the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Built along the riversides and decorated with flying eaves, carved windows, porcelain furniture, figured clay bricks, dapper gardens and small stairs leading down to the water, these complexes mean Tongli is a shining pearl among the water-towns south of Yangtze River. Retreat and Reflection (Tuisi) Garden, built by the retired official Ren Lansheng during 1885 and 1887, is the most spectacular in the town.Compact and harmonious, the garden is in two parts.
The residential area to the west consists of an outer house and inner house including the sedan hall, the tea hall, a main reception hall and two buildings forming the actual dwelling. The garden in the east has ponds, Marble Boats, waterside pavilions, halls, kiosks, verandas, rockeries and bridges. Together with flourishing trees and colorful flowers the garden greets visitors with its beauty and charm whatever the season.
Bridges are the vital links between the different parts of town. Forty-nine stone bridges in a variety of styles join the seven islands created by fifteen rivers and five lakes upon which Tongli stands. Standing motionless for hundreds of years, the bridges bear witness to the vicissitudes of history and remain an indispensable part of the township. Each bridge has a name and these examples will give you an idea of the poetic nature of the inhabitants.
Perhaps the most notable are Peace and Tranquility (Taiping) Bridge, Luck (Jili) Bridge and Lasting Celebration (Changqing) Bridge. These are known as Ternate Bridges as they cross three rivers at their confluence and form a natural ring road. The small and exquisite Taiping Bridge was built during the reign of emperor Jiaqing of the Qing dynasty; Jili Bridge is an arch bridge and inscribed with age-old couplets describing the beautiful painting-like views at either end.
Changqing Bridge, also named Guangli Bridge, was originally constructed in 1470 and rebuilt by Xiezhen in 1704. Ternate Bridges are propitious symbols in the eyes of the local residents and they walk over them for good luck during wedding or birthday parties.
The oldest bridge in the town is Reflecting Origin (Siben) Bridge which was built in the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279) while the smallest bridge is called Single Step (Dubu) which is only one and a half meter (5 feet) in length and less than one meter (3 feet) in width.
Tongli is a town with a profound cultural background and achievement. The town is now a highly praised historical site and tourist resort and enjoys increasing popularity with travel enthusiasts. Walking through the alleys of this venerable water town, one cannot fail to appreciate its pristine and intoxicating atmosphere.
Tongli the Lost Water Town of Suzhou
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