Beauty and tranquillity in the Venice of the east – Suzhou Travel Video Guide
If you were to think about a place with canals, bridges, beautiful gardens and a rich history, the first destination that would spring to mind would probably be Venice. However, there is an equally inspiring place in China, less than a hundred miles west of Shanghai.
Suzhou, which lies in Jiangsu province, could not be more different from China’s capital. It is a place of contrasts. Grand architecture sits alongside the picturesquely dilapidated homes, with steps leading directly down to the edge of the city’s many canals.
Suzhou is like a living body of art, with the canals as its veins. Marco Polo described it as the Venice of the East, and the resemblance is cemented in the many beautiful bridges that span the waterways and join the city together within its impressive 24km wall. Over these bridges, much like another beautiful European city, Amsterdam, bicycles are more plentiful than cars. The visitor knows they are somewhere special from the moment they arrive at the imposing town gate.
If the canals are the lifeblood of Suzhou, the formal gardens are its heart and lungs.
Perhaps the best known of Suzhou’s gardens is The Garden of Politics of the Simple Man. These grounds were designed in the 16th century by an influential mandarin. They contain a large central garden, a smaller garden and guests’ residence. The artistry of the design is simultaneously calming and breathtaking. Tranquil fish pools, bordered by willows put the visitor at ease, whilst pretty bridges and formal spaces with tessellated pebble paths and patios excite the eye. The buildings add further interest as their geometric apertures housing handsome grilles provide frames through which to view different parts of the garden, as one might view a beautiful painting. This is fitting, since the gardens were inspired by art of the Ming Dynasty.
Garden of the Master of the Nets
Chinese garden design is also epitomised in another of Suzhou’s horticultural jewels – the Garden of the Master of the Nets. The striking thing here is the illusion of space created by the design, despite the site being relatively small. The garden dates back to the 12th century when the Vice Minister of Defence settled to retire there, but little of the original design now remains. We have to thank the aristocrats of the 18th century who took on the then very overgrown site and commissioned scholars and artists to transform it into the living artwork we have the pleasure of seeing today. Their creativity can clearly be seen in features such as the pictures of birds and other animals formed from pebbles in the stone paths, which lead the visitor tantalisingly through the green spaces.
The Garden of the Master of the Nets also has a residence, which is notable for its glowing and beautifully carved dark wood decorative panels and furniture.
Garden of Rest
The Garden of Rest is also a source of great joy for the visitor in Suzhou’s delightful gardens. This oasis was established in the 16th century. Amongst its arresting features are the many curiously shaped stones, which were placed throughout the space. The garden you see today was redesigned following its acquisition in 1876. Four main areas were established and several new buildings erected which all contribute to the sensual pleasure of a visit.
Suzhou’s classical gardens, of which there are nine in total, are reason enough to visit the city. They are masterpieces of man’s ability to shape nature to enhance its beauty.