Tongli Water Town 同里水乡 in Suzhou is one of the top six ancient towns in the regions south of Yangtze River in China, traditionally referred to as Jiangnan 江南, which literally means “south of the river”. No, there’s no Jiangbei 江北.
Brief Introduction of Tongli
Tongli 同里, or called Tongli Water Town, in the south west of Suzhou, is referred to as the “Oriental Venice” with its more than 1000-year-old history, historical old buildings, original ancient canals, and simple folk culture of locals. It is rated as one of the “Top Six Ancient Towns in Jiangnan“.
Since it still has a collection of ancient structures from Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, Tongli is a perfect place to enjoy the authentic charm of old water town and the real leisure life of Jiangnan region.
It is home to like World Cultural Heritage Site like the Retreat and Reflection Garden 退思园.
History of Tongli
Tongli was established in Song dynasty over 10 centuries ago and was first named Fu Tu 富土, or “fertile land”. But later it was changed to Tong Li 铜里 during the Tang dynasty so as to not sound too extravagant. And later people finally changed its name again into the present Tongli 同里 in Song dynasty. According to the history, Tongli is a key place in the ancient Wu (吴) region, and since it could communicate with the outside world only by boat, there were few wars or turbulence. And then, it became an ideal place for people to escape from the social upheaval and settle down.
Bridges, Canals, Families 小桥流水人家
Its wonderful (and out of the way) location meant that Tongli has escaped the destructive wars that surrounded the region. Because of that advantageous location of being surrounded by water and linked by old stone bridges, Tongli architecture was undisturbed for centuries and it remained a model picture of the Jiangnan water town of 小桥、流水、人家 (bridges, canals, families).
Bridges are important parts of the culture of Tongli. The most famous bridges among the 49 bridges in Tongli are Taiping Bridge 太平桥 (peace), Jili Bridge 吉利桥 (luck) and Changqing Bridge 长庆桥 (celebration), collective known as the Three Bridges 三桥. It is featured in local custom of crossing all three bridges without going backwards in a circle for luck, prosperity and peace in the newly weds life.
And the largest was Tailai Bridge 泰来桥. It used to be the main bridge connecting the ancient town with the outside world, with a pavilion on the top of the arch. However the roof of the pavilion was gone due to frequent wind damage, therefore the villagers decided not to replace it.
The Town Centre
Right in the middle of town is the Opera Stage and a monument to commemorate all the movies and TV series that used Tongli as the shooting location. You can see the names (and the year) these movies were taken. It really flourished in the 80s, when there were not many locations that the TV stations can use. These days, there’s the huge TV studios cities that replicated the whole Forbidden Palace and such.
Highlights of Tongli
To explore the real charm of Tongli, you need to roam leisurely among the old cobblestone streets and river banks, as well as visit some of the famous spots the Retreat and Reflection Garden 退思园, Gengle Hall 耕乐堂, the Three Bridges 三桥, etc. More of these in the other parts in the series.
This is Part 1 of a Five-Part Special on Tongli
- #1/5 Jiangnan Water Town 同里水乡
- #2/5 Retreat and Reflection Garden 退思园
- #3/5 Sights and Sounds 同里声色
- #4/5 Night and Day 同里日不落
- #5/5 Memories 老朋友
Date Visited : Nov 2020