August 2, 2017

Ancient Shanghai

From Chenghuang Miao to Zhenru - a photo collection of historic areas of Shanghai I've seen within the last month or so:

Chenghuang Miao and Yuyuan Garden

Placed in the Old Town district at the Bund riverside, this complex is more like a shopping mall full of restaurants and souvenirs stores than a spiritual worship place. Due to its convenient location in the city center, it is among the busiest tourists' spots in Shanghai. Still, interesting to see during both day and night.

Moreover, there is a classical Chinese garden Yuyuan, which is definitely worth visiting:

It features all elements of traditional Chinese gardens: rocks, water, plants, and architecture in a harmonic layout. Animals are also represented; there are many golden fishes in the ponds. And if you look closely, some of the "stones" are alive too.

Yuyuan roughly translates as "Happiness"


Confucian Temple

While the first documents about this temple date as far as the 15th century, it took its shape in the 18th century. In 1931, one pavilion of the temple became Shanghai's first national library. Then, the temple suffered damage during the Cultural Revolution, and it was rebuilt in recent years. It has a nice feel.

Besides an array of books, the temple has a teapots museum and a jade collection.

At the time of my visit, it was very quiet. I chatted with a girl who had an internship in the temple about the buildings and why it's not more popular among tourists. According to her, the majority of tourists used to come from the US; however, since China's public image in the States declined over the last few years, the number of American visitors dropped significantly. It was an interesting conversation.


Jade Buddha Temple

Probably the most popular Buddhist temple in Shanghai. But if you get there when there's a massive downpour, it is empty and atmospheric.

The temple was established in 1882, but all the buildings are from the first half of the 20th century. It contains two jade Buddha sculptures from Burma, and a marble one from Singapore.

Inside the four deva-kings hall.


Jing'an Temple


Many old Chinese temples recently went under such reconstruction that there's no single original brick, no patina of aging. Out of these "fake" ancient structures, the Jing'an looks the most obvious. Shiny wooden blocks still smell new, stone blocks are cut in precise lines, and the painted parts seem like they would leave a wet mark on you if you'd touch them. Altogether.. um, let me put it this way - Imagine that you rent a Wrangler, but when you walk into a parking lot, you see this:

It might look similar, it might also be capable off road, but from every angle, you see that it's not the original you expected.

The temple feels so artificial; it actually reminded me the Venetian in Las Vegas - I guess it would do the job if you are up for entertainment; but to me, the buildings around left a far better impression than the temple itself.

Anyway, let's move on:


Longhua Temple

Main gate and 40m / 131ft tall octagonal pagoda from 10th century.

This; unlike the previous, was much more to my taste. It is Shanghai's largest and most authentic ancient temple complex. Its history started in 242 AD (!), and its current look is from the turn of the first millennium.

The temple includes five halls, two towers, a library, and the pagoda.


Qibao Town

An area around Puhui River in west Shanghai with historical buildings. It is clear that it became a tourist attraction just recently - when you turn away from the main streets, there's an entirely different world. As a downside, there's more trash, and some corners smell like a rural train station's toilet.

Qibao is also known for its selection of street food - quite an experience as well.

It's worth visiting in the evening, too.


Zhenru Temple

Together with Longhua, this is my favorite Shanghai temple. Its roots go back to 1320, and while it is mostly rebuilt, there's still the oldest surviving framed construction in Shanghai, plus a neat square pagoda. And since it sits relatively far from the city center, I saw more monks and locals during my visit than tourists.


Zhouzhuang Town

Technically, this isn't Shanghai anymore - it is in Suzhou's Prefecture. To be fair though, it is like one km / less than a mile from Shanghai's city limit - so I've put it here as well. Zhouzhuang claims that it is China's number one water town; but, some locals told me that every other attraction tries to declare themselves as "China's #1". Therefore, it is probably as reliable as when a photographer goes with the title "award-winning." Either way, it has well-preserved ancient structures, so whatever its status is, it's a great place to see.

In fact, the oldest surviving houses are from the 11th century, and bridges from the 14th. It is a large area with vivid life, so observing people around is as interesting as the buildings themselves. The only downside of my visit was my tight schedule - I wish I had more time..



If you are more into modern architecture, Shanghai has loads to offer.
See my previous articles about China.

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Published by: Jakub Stepanovic in Collections

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