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Old Streets in Nanjing
2005-12-15 09:37:30

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Today, our destination is Nanjing, the literal meaning of the Southern Capital, as opposed to Beijing, the Northern Capital. Boasting a prestigious imperial past, serving as inspiration for many poets, the city of Nanjing is the place where you can get really close to history. It sits on the lower reaches of the Yangtze river, a strategic position of such importance that six ancient dynasties had made Nanjing its capital. Today Nanjing is the sprawling capital of Jiangsu province, with a population of over six million people. 

Travel Express Vol.28: Nanjing

Let's start of journey of Nanjing from one such old street, called Yudaojie, or royal pathway. 

During Ming Dynasty, before the emperor moved the capital north to Beijing,  Nanjing was the capital and the emperor built the city walls and imperial palace here. All the important military, high court and other department lined along Yudaojie street. Now we've just entered Wumen, which means the Meridian Gate.

The six-meter wide stone pavement was only reserved for the emperors and the high-ranking officials. That means only the emperors could use that gate.

Entering Wumen, you leave behind the traffic of modern times and enter the Imperial City of the Ming Dynasty. Inside the Gate of Wumen is another small open-air museum where people keep a small garden-like space to display some of the stone architectural elements.

Unfortunately the royal palace and the imperial city are long gone, but much of the outer city wall still remains standing.

The wall was built along a natural river, which served as the moat for the city.  That side is outside the wall and over there is inside the city. Today the city of Nanjing has grown out of the city walls, but isn't it nice to have such ancient walls inside your city? What a treasure.

After over 600 years these stonewalls still stand here silently as valid witnesses to the passing of time. The outer city wall is acclaimed as the longest city wall in China. It stretches over 33 kilometers and most of its parts still remain standing amid the city of Nanjing, though the face of the city has long changed.

Today, with high rises and skyscrapers, the skyline of Nanjing has changed much.

Just like any other city around the country, the old alleyways are disappearing quickly. But if you look carefully, you can still find one or two left. Along which, fine spots that give you a sense of how life used to be like around here.

Ganjiadayuan, former residence of the Gan family is located in Yudaojie street. . The huge compound wasn't built in one day, but was gradually expanded over years through several generations. The most famous figure in the family is a man named Gan Xi, a scholar of Qing Dynasty. The massive wooden decoration and the scale of the residence telltales the affluence of the family.

The Gan family was particularly known for their artistic talent. By the end of the Qing Dynasty, it's said each of the couple hundred of the family members could play a musical instrument and one of their favorites was a local opera called Kunqu.

Kunqu is one of the finest and oldest forms of local operas in China. Somehow the slow melody just matches the old houses and rooms, which are full of untold memories and stories.

For a taste of the local flavors, one recommendation is the Shiziqiao Street, in conjunction of Hunanlu Street. It is my policy to try the most indigenous local food wherever I go. For that reason, the Nanjing Dapaidang restaurant is one good choice. Its deliberate antique decorations as well as the furniture indicate a clear vow to provide a flavor that is one hundred percent local.

There are so many choices, but I can only recommend a few here we are. This is Shizitou, very easy to remember, the head of a lion. This one is the root of the lotus. This one is Luhao, vegetable only available in this part of China and the last one, this one I've never heard of, it's called Tang Yumiao, sweet little taros.

Other Tourist Destinations in Jiangsu Province: Suzhou, Changzhou, Tianmu Lake


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