Being among the nation’s oldest cities, Suzhou is well known in China and abroad. One of its many treasures is its canals and water ways. These are both inspiration to all for their grandeur and excellence, and testament to a colorful and rich history, having served as cradle for much of Suzhou’s heritage and livelihood. Suzhou’s success owes itself to the plentitude of this resource, and in modern Suzhou, water ways continue to flow gloriously.
It all started in ancient times, Suzhou, the Yangtze River, and the Yangtze River delta. Transportation was trouble-free, and so, commercial activities sprouted unrestrained. The people of Suzhou were wise and built aquatic lanes within the city boundaries, effortlessly moving people and goods around. Historic blocks like Shantang and Pingjiang are living proof to this time. Commercial trade with other cities and regions also grew, bringing further wealth and progress. Nevertheless, with prosperity came the need for protection. The dominating city walls were no longer enough, and a large and wide moat was dug to encircle it, a moat that cleverly served two purposes: one, defense; and two, higher transportation speed.
In truth, much of the original city wall was destroyed throughout the ages, but what remains provides fascinating insights to historic legends and local tales. Today’s main areas of interest are the original eight gates, all of which are open for visitation. The most significant gate, an essential stop for all visitors, is called Pan Men. Luckily, it coincides that the Pan Men Gate is both the most unique city gate in China as well as the best preserved.
The Yangtze River and City Moat are not the only waters of Suzhou. As it happens, another large and magnificent body of water brought distinct changes to the region; it was due to this third that the city moat could be conceived. The Grand Canal. This engineering masterpiece, on a par with the Great Wall of China, borders Suzhou and acts as an aquatic highway between the north of China and the Yangtze River Delta. Today, tourist, private leisure, and commercial vessels all sail these waters, and whether you sail the ancient or modern stretches of the Grand Canal, scenic views and landmarks appear along the way. The Hanshan Temple, a mecca for Buddhists, along with many other temples and religious sites, are visible during a cruise.
With all these water treasures, it’s no surprise that Water Towns are also abundant, towns crisscrossed by rivers, canals, and bridges, towns that maintain simple and traditional ways of life. Zhouzhuang is the top amongst these, but others like Tongli and Mudu are also exemplary.
So, if you intend on visiting Suzhou, be sure to experience the Classic Canals and all they add to the city’s culture and heritage.