A nice day trip from downtown Shanghai is a visit to Zhujiajiao Ancient Town. Its water canals and narrow cobbled streets lead many to call it the “Venice of China”.
Located in a suburb of Shanghai city, Zhujiajiao is an ancient water town well-known throughout the country, with a history of more than 1700 years. Covering an area of 47sqm, the little fan-shaped town glimmers like a bright pearl in the landscape of lakes and mountains.
Endowed with another elegant name – ‘Pearl Stream’ – the little town is the best-preserved among the four ancient towns in Shanghai. Unique old bridges across bubbling streams, small rivers shaded by willow trees, and houses with courtyards attached all transport people who have been living amidst the bustle and hustle of the modern big city to a brand-new world full of antiquity, leisure and tranquillity.
When I first made my plans to visit Zhujiajiao, I was thinking of the “Venice of China” remarks, and I thought that all I would see would be the waterways, plus its famous antiquated bridges. However, when I arrived I realised that the Ancient Town itself was actually one of the highlights of Zhujiajiao, as well as the lovely gardens here. You do really get a sense a history when in Zhujiajiao.
Many of the tour guides claim that to visit Zhujiajiao without seeing the bridges means that you’ve not really been to Zhujiajiao at all! Bridges here are distinctive and antiquated, built during Ming and Qing Dynasties. The old town is thoroughly connected by 36 delicate bridges in different shapes and styles, from wooden to stone to marble. I really enjoyed looking at all these bridges. Who would have thought that a backpacker to Shanghai would have nothing better to do than look a bridges all day?! Oh well, whatever floats my boat…
Fangsheng Bridge (Setting-fish-free Bridge) is the longest, largest and tallest stone bridge, with five openings both in Zhujiajiao and in the Shanghai region. This bridge was built in 1571. On the bridge stands a stone tablet named Dragon Gate Stone, which is engraved with 8 coiling dragons encircling a shining pearl. On top of the bridge are 4 lifelike stone lions.
Lang Bridge (Veranda Bridge), also named Huimin Bridge, is the only wooden bridge and the most featured span in this town. It has wooden bars on the two sides and upturned eaves above, just like a narrow corridor.
In the town, there is an ancient street filled with representative ancient buildings from the Ming and Qing Dynasties, attracting great numbers of domestic and foreign visitors. That is North Street, which is the best preserved ancient street in this suburb. Only one kilometer long, the whole street is at once primitively simple, yet very elegant. Strolling on this ancient thoroughfare and appreciating the historic buildings, long-established stores, and old bridges as well as the many narrow lanes is another enjoyment.
Zhujiajiao boasts imposing gardens as well as ancient dwellings built during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Among the ancient architecture, Ke Zhi Yuan is the largest manorial garden. The garden is commonly named ‘Ma Family Garden’ after a former host named Ma Wenqin (or so I was told!).
I have never been to Venice in Italy, and I don’t know if I would ever go there in the future. However, I am content with the fact that during my backpacking adventures in Shanghai I at least discovered the “Venice of China”!