Suzhou is a major Chinese city of more than 4 million inhabitants situated by the lakes in the Yangzte River Delta in the Jiangsu Province, some 100 km/65 miles west of Shanghai. Dating back more than 2,500 years, Suzhou (pronounced Soochow) is one of the oldest cities in the Yangtze Basin. While perhaps most famous for its classical gardens and canals, Suzhou is also renowned for its silk. Having served as the center of the silk industry during the Tang and Song Dynasties, Suzhou has regained its position as the top producer of high-quality silk over the past three decades. Today, visitors to Suzhou can create their own silk road by visiting iconic locations across the city that provide an authentic look into the important material that has been sewn into China’s history for centuries.
Header photo: Jinji Lake – Suzhou Tourism/PHG Consulting
Each year, millions of tourists travel to Suzhou to experience the destination’s more than 400 attractions, ranging from pagodas and temples to historical districts and world-class museums. As the largest industrial city in China, Suzhou continues to develop, such as the Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP), which boasts five-star hotels, the iconic Lake Jinji, and Asia’s largest Ferris Wheel. Suzhou is sometimes called “Venice of China”, thanks to its elegant stone bridges and canals, flowing water, and noteworthy architecture. The city boasts the beautifully manicured Classical Gardens of Suzhou, nine of which have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, four since 1997 and an additional five gardens since 2000.
The Classical gardens of Suzhou are enlisted World Heritage for their artistic perfection and long traditions. The planning, design, construction techniques, as well as artistic effect have had a significant impact on the development of landscaping in China as well as the world. These elaborate gardens once owned by scholars and and wealthy families date back to the 6th century BCE, but it wasn’t until the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) dynasties that Suzhou’s garden art reached its zenith.
The underlying philosophy, literature, art, and craftsmanship shown in the architecture, gardening as well as the handcrafts reflect the monumental achievements of the social, cultural, scientific, and technological developments of this period.
As one of the four most renowned gardens in China, the Lingering Garden (see header photo) is famous for the exquisite beauty of its magnificent halls and buildings in various sizes, shapes, and colours. Celebrated for its artistic way of dealing with spaces between various kinds of architectural form, the garden is divided into four parts that are connected by an almost half-mile long corridor, with an ancestral temple and houses to the south of the garden.
Humble Administrator’s Garden
The largest garden in Suzhou, the famed Humble Administrator’s Garden, is considered to be one of the best representations of China’s classic landscape architecture and is home to a number of scenic spots. Classic zigzag bridges frame the garden with each area telling a different story, reflecting the purpose and philosophy behind the structure.
Distinct to China, the Classical Chinese garden design aims to create a flawless miniature landscape and emphasize the profound harmony between man and nature. Suzhou’s gardens are regarded as masterpieces of this genre. What separates them from other gardens around the world is that each the Suzhou garden must contain four main characteristics: water, buildings, flowers/trees, and rocks.
The additional gardens in Suzhou include:
- The Mountain Villa with Embracing Beauty
It captivates its audience with its soaring mountains and cliffs, deep caverns, and stone houses.
- The Retreat & Reflection Garden
Located in the picturesque water town of Tongli, the garden is notorious for its pavilions that seemingly float atop the pond’s peaceful surface.
- The Master-of-Nets Garden
Suzhou’s smallest garden that boasts an intricate design and creates the illusion of a much larger space.
- The Garden of Cultivation
With its mist-cloaked hills, deep springs, and placid pools, is simpler than the others — yet its beauty is commanding.
- The Canglang Pavilion
A flawless union of architecture and nature, it is the oldest garden in Suzhou and home to a mesmerizing forest of weeping willows, viridian bamboo, and other ancient trees.
- The Lion Forest Garden
The garden is full of whimsical rock formations and imposing manmade mountains, which are the biggest draw.
- The Couple’s Retreat
- This romantic oasis is sandwiched between three restful canals and a bevy of dramatic pavilions and verdant landscaping.
All photos courtesy of Suzhou Municipal Tourism Administration/PHG Consulting