Suzhou

 
3 Days Suzhou Tour:  Five-Star: Pan Pacific Suzhou Hotel | Deluxe: Garden Hotel Suzhou


Suzhou is notable for its intimacy of scale as a city and its tradition as a centre for refined garden design. If Hangzhou can be described as a city set within a landscape , Suzhou is a series of landscapes set within a city. A casual stroll around Suzhou will not immediately reveal the gardens; they are hidden behind high walls. The gardens were the creations of scholar-artists, who made their own private, landscaped retreats from the cares of the outside world. They are not simply areas for tending and planting, but are also artistic conceits designed in harmony with rocks, pools, plants, decorative windows, pebble mosaics, walkways and carefully devised vistas. In addition, they are laid out as settings in which to entertain as well as retire, to observe the changing moods of the seasons as well as the light and shade of the passing day.










Gardens  
One of the smallest and yet most remarkable is known as the Garden of the Master of the Fishing Nets (Wangshi Yuan). A garden was first built here in the Song dynasty, but its present form and name date from the late 18th century, when the scholar, Song Zongyuan, bought the property. A walk through the garden with its bridges and carefully devised views is particularly rewarding. Some visitors may recognize the Hall for Eternal Spring, which has been recreated in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The larger and more open garden known as the Garden of the Humble Administrator (Zhuozheng Yuan) is part park and part a restored Ming garden. In the park section, visitors can stroll by the small pond and enjoy hot snacks served at a nearby stall. The classical Ming garden has a pool patterned with islands and bridges, one island of which—the Xiangzhou—is said to suggest a moored boat. In the small enclosed Loquat Garden are a series of decorative pebble pictures.

The oldest extant garden in the city is reputed to be the Pavilion of the Blue Waves (Canglang Ting), dating back to the Song dynasty. The garden was re-landscaped in the Ming dynasty and then destroyed in the Taiping Rebellion of the mid-19th century. It was restored in 1873. The garden has an imposing artificial hill and an open vista to an adjacent, willow-fringed canal.

Another seductively named garden is the Lingering Garden (Liu Yuan). With stylized landscapes in an ornamental setting, this large 16th-century garden is famous for its classical round doorways known as moon gates. These and other geometrically-shaped doorways provide natural frames for viewing the plants, pools and rocks beyond. The garden pool is framed by vast rock formations, which create the impression of mountains.

For the connoisseur of rocks, the Forest of Lions Garden (Shizi Lin) is a favourite. It was laid out in the Yuan dynasty (1279–1368) under the supervision of the painter Ni Zan, and is thus one of Suzhou’s most admired gardens. The garden was also the childhood home of the Chinese American architect, I.M. Pei. It has a fine collection of rocks, one of which is so large and eroded that it has small caverns and grottoes through which you can actually walk. Oddly shaped rocks were an indispensable feature of Chinese gardens; they were regarded as aesthetic objects and the most ornamental and coveted ones were those dredged from the bottom of Taihu Lake near Wuxi.

The Garden of Harmony (Yi Yuan) is a Qing-dynasty garden which has been modelled on earlier Ming ones. It too has a number of rocks dredged from Taihu Lake, which have been arranged as a mountain frame for the pond. It is interesting to note that this, like other classical Chinese gardens, does not have the dynamic, fluid quality of the Japanese garden. In the Chinese version there is a pleasure in the composed harmony of elements and the appreciation of devised contrasts.
 





Temples

 
 
 
As far as temples are concerned, staying in Suzhou would be incomplete without a visit to the Cold Mountain Monastery. This monastery has been immortalized in a Tang-dynasty poem by Zhang Ji, copies of which are painted on fans or carved on inkstones and sold as Suzhou souvenirs. The temple was founded in the fifth century and is adjacent to a small, attractive canal, spanned by a high-arched bridge which is featured in the name of the poem, ‘Midnight at Maple Bridge’.

The monastery’s bell has disappeared and the Ming replacement was taken to Japan and lost. The present bell, cast in 1906, was given by a Japanese Buddhist delegation. Cold Mountain Monastery is also famous for its association with the Tang-dynasty Buddhist monk-poet Han Shan, who stayed here at one time.

Opposite the Lingering Garden, you will find the West Garden Temple, designed by the scholar, Xu Shitai, in the Ming dynasty. The main curiosity is a pond where a reputedly 300-year-old turtle lives.

Of the many stone bridges remaining in Suzhou, the most famous lies in the southeast of the city and is known as the Precious Belt Bridge. It is over 1,000 years old, built in 816, and it has 53 arches. In its present form, it is a 19th-century restoration of the original. The bridge is so named because an early governor of the city is said to have sold a precious belt in order to raise funds to build it.

The North Temple Pagoda, easy to find because of its height, is a prominent landmark of Suzhou. It was built in 1582 and has been restored so that visitors can safely climb up to get a good view of the city. In the central district of the city stand the Twin Pagodas, which were built in the Song dynasty. They are all that remain of an earlier Tang temple.

To the northwest of the city is Tiger Hill. It is a wonderful sight, with its leaning pagoda, waterfalls, spring, rocks and landscaped paths. The hill was built in the Zhou dynasty (1027–256 BCE) as a burial mound for a local ruler, the King of Wu. Legend has it that a tiger guards the tomb—hence its name. For another half-day outing, the Dongshan area, 40 kilometres (25 miles) southwest of Suzhou on Taihu Lake, and Changshu, about the same distance to the north, both offer a glimpse of rural life.