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Rivers that run through beauty and history

A RIVER from the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC); a town established in the Tang (618-907 AD) and Song (960-1279) dynasties; buildings in the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) style; and people living in modern times.

This is not a fictional description but the reality of Xitang, a 1,000-year-old canal town, a pearl lying quietly in neighboring Zhejiang Province waiting for visitors to explore its beauty.

In the hinterland of the Yangtze River Delta, Xitang has a flat terrain which is laced with rivers and a peaceful natural environment. Nine river courses crisscross the township, dividing it into eight blocks, while the many bridges link it with the water.

In Xitang, there are well-preserved architectural complexes from the Ming and Qing dynasties, which are of real artistic and historic value. Looking over the town, visitors can see little swells of water lapping at the houses which are reflected in the glistening water.

This ancient town is like a poem. People wandering through this beautiful landscape feel that they are in the picture-perfect Peach Blossom Garden in famed Tang Dynasty poet Tao Yuanming's most well-known poem, "Peach Blossom Spring." Are there people walking in this picture or is the picture itself just a dream?

Veranda shelters

Legend has it that long ago there was a tobacco shop which didn't have good business. One day, a beggar lying in front of the door (actually the beggar turned out to be an immortal) showed no intention of leaving that night, and the owner erected a shelter for him with a bamboo curtain to protect him from the wind and rain.

The next day there appeared a couplet on the shop's door: "The veranda shelter shielded off a night's wind and rain, and good luck will go to the charitable family."

After that, the shop's business began to boom. And the ancient town has since then built those very same veranda shelters.

Legend is just legend, but the veranda shelters of Xitang do appeal to tourists for their unique grace.

Most of the streets in Xitang have veranda shelters to keep merchants and pedestrians from rain and sun.

The sheltered stalls along the river are arranged so that visitors can rest easily.

Most of the veranda shelters are made with wooden frames and tile roofing, usually about 2 meters wide. Veranda shelters are found aplenty in the commercial districts like Beizha Street, Nanzha Street and the Chaonandai community, stretching about 2,000 meters.

Ancient bridges

The waterside Xitang Town, special among the ancient towns throughout China, is famed for its many bridges.

Up to 1998, 104 bridges had been erected through the town. After the Song Dynasty, Xitang had 11 bridges, including Anren Bridge, Anjing Bridge and Yongqing Bridge. In the Qing Dynasty, more bridges like the Wulong Bridge and the Duchan Bridge were constructed.

Most of these ancient bridges are made of stone pillars with wooden beams. There is exquisite workmanship in the bridges, all of which are well preserved.

They are also very appreciated and have been praised as the "dragon lying over ripples, and rainbows across the river" since ancient times.

Old lanes

Old alleyways are another feature of Xitang.

The winding lanes can lead to secluded areas tucked away deep in the town. Once you get there, enchanting and unforgettable scenes will unfold before you.

The original ancient residences in Xitang all feature lanes. Some have three, four or five courtyards and some five, six or seven. Twenty to 30 households all pass through and share the lanes.

Ming and Qing buildings

In Xitang, there are many ancient residences, like Zhongfu Hall and Xue's House; old temples, such as the Seventh Master's Temple and Holy Hall; beautiful gardens like the West Garden and the Drunk Garden - all places of interest, and each of them with a beautiful story.

As well as the architectural and cultural values they show inside, the old buildings often offer other historical and cultural treasures. Look out for the Button Museum and the China Wine Culture Museum.

Residents in Xitang are varied a lot: Some are opening doors to welcome tourists; some wait to discuss music, chess, calligraphy and painting; and others enjoy showing their private collections of ancient books and rare editions or stone-inscriptions by celebrities.

Xitang is truly a special place, filled with interesting sights and it's not just visitors who fall in love with it.


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