Suzhou holds many titles, the Capital of Silk; the Land of Abundance; the Venice of China and the World of Gardens! Around 600 years ago, Marco Polo praised Suzhou as a ‘noble and great city’!
With a history of more than 2,500 years, Suzhou was the cradle of the Wu culture. The ancient city of Suzhou, boasting splendid scenery, rich cultural heritage and abundant agricultural products, is situated in the Lower Yangtze basin by the side of Lake Tai. Ever since the founding of Suzhou as the capital of the Wu Kingdom in 514 BC, it has been the political, economic and cultural center of the region. The city began to take the name of Suzhou and Gusu City during the Sui Dynasty (581 – 618 AD). Numerous changes have taken place in Suzhou throughout its long history. Yet through it all, in spite of repeated devastation, the city is still seated exactly on the original site that it was 2,500 years ago!
The personality of Suzhou is “soft and gentle”! The scenery is soft, 70% of the city is made up of water. You will find narrow canals, elegant classical gardens, old – fashioned private houses and beautiful lakes with undulating hills in lush green. One of the signature scenes of Suzhou is that of a delicate bridge hanging over a tranquil canal in the drizzling rain, with a boat house moving away in concert with the reflection of the local houses on both side of the canal! The history behind each place, the exquisite silk and even the local dialect are famous for their soft tones; all of these have made Suzhou a renowned historical and cultural city with eternal poetic charm!
As a place famed for its well-known scholars, successful merchants, great architects and distinguished artists, Suzhou provides the perfect conditions for the creation and development of classical Chinese gardens. Suzhou classical gardens take a unique historic position in the world of gardening. They have become the standard of Oriental gardening art by blending superb artistic expression of scenery and containment of strong traditional thoughts.
During the prosperous Ming and Qing Dynasties, especially from the 16th to the 18th centuries, Suzhou experienced a booming economy and the most famous gardens are the products of this wealth. It is said that at one time, there were more than two hundred gardens in Suzhou although not all of these still exist today. One of a Suzhou garden’s characteristics is that, it is quite small and quite detailed, but within the garden you will never feel like you are being squeezed. Most of the gardens are located in the middle of the city, but with their designs and the use of natural decorations, you feel like you are back to nature. The secret of a Suzhou Garden is to create space where there is no space and create an atmosphere of a peaceful nature in the middle of the noisy urban area. A classical garden of Suzhou is a microcosm of the world, made up of the basic elements, water, stones, plants and different styled architectures with literary allusions. Like a freehand brushwork in traditional Chinese painting, it is the creation of “urban scenery”, or a peaceful environment that brings man into harmony with nature. Built in a period when privately-owned gardens were flourishing most, the Humble Administrator’s Garden, the Lingering Garden, the Master-of-Nets Garden and the Mountain Villa with Embracing Beauty, are renowned for their beautiful scenes, elegant buildings and literary connotations. They represent the traditional aesthetics of the Chinese culture, and are the finest specimens of all the classical gardens in Suzhou.
There is an old saying in China: “Paradise is in Heaven, but Suzhou and Hangzhou are on earth.” Suzhou is an enchanting artistic town that sooths your spirit and soul with its simple elegance and artistic peace! The exquisitely simple contrast of the white walls and dark gray roofs going upwards in between the tranquil canals, broken only by the small stone bridges crossing them that are so delicate they appear to be floating by, make a simple yet elegant living picture! Hearing the echoes of your footsteps while walking on the original stone road and listening to the soft dialect spoken by the locals, you will almost get lost in time! As a line in a famous Chinese poem describes: ‘Upon arriving in Suzhou you behold, all the houses seem pillowed on the water’s edge.’ The poetic and picturesque Suzhou will be an enchanting experience on your China tour!