Zhouzhuang Watertown

Zhouzhuang WatertownZhouzhuang is a cluster of ancient towns dating back to the Ming and Qing dynasties, where narrow flagstones lead to shady, tranquil lanes, and bridges constructed in various styles bestraddle the rivers running though these towns.

Strolling along these alleys and lanes, experiencing this unsophisticated folkway, or, from one of its bridges, enjoying the view of local-style houses that resembles a watercolor, brings the sensation of being closer to nature.

Zhouzhuang was an obscure town until Chen Yifei painted it in oils, enchanting the whole world. It has since then been a compelling destination for visitors, and will shortly become even better known, as the next session of the APEC conference on a ministerial level is to be held here.

In 1086, during the Northern Song period, a Mr. Zhou donated his house and land of 13 hectares for the purposes of building a temple. The local people therefore call this area Zhouzhuang (Zhou's Village). Gradually hamlets sprouted up around the village, and it eventually grew into a riverside town, retaining the name Zhouzhuang.

Zhouzhuang still retains its original layout after 900 years. Half of the houses in the locality were built during the Ming and Qing dynasties. To date the town houses around 100 ancient compounds and over 60 brick-carved gateways. Shen's Mansion, built by descendants of Shen Wansan, is a dwelling in the typical southern Chinese style common during the Ming and Qing dynasties. In its spacious compound are more than 100 rooms spread over seven yards, providing a full range of traditional architecture, including gateways, tearooms and overhead building projections spanning lanes.

The Zhang Residence was built in the Ming Dynasty. On entering, elegant wing rooms come into view, and the spacious main hall with its sturdy pillars. A river flows beneath the dim, tiled porch that is faced by the back wall, whose window opens on to the courtyard. Over this wall is the revetment, lined by mooring stones in the shape of a ruyi (an S-shaped ornamental object, usually made of jade, a symbol of good luck).

Its network of rivers and lakes is the reason why Zhouzhuang Town is spanned by numerous bridges, 10 that are ancient, and all of them covered in thick moss, with liana hanging from their arches. Along the rivers are local-style houses, fields and twisting lanes, adding a further touch of charm to this ancient town.

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