Located about 80 mi/130 km southwest of Shanghai, the town of Wuzhen, China, is a successful case study in historic preservation. The walled city is a maze of canals and narrow alleyways.
Established in 872, Wuzhen and its ambience have remained largely unchanged. Most of its current, carefully preserved buildings date from the late 19th century, and its ancient stone bridges are constructed in a variety of shapes and designs. The arched spans are particularly attractive and provide the perfect spot from which to photograph the intriguing scenery along the canals.
In 1991, Wuzhen was named a Provincial Ancient Town of History and Culture. As a result, modern visitors centers with fee-collecting kiosks guard its two entrances. Even if the experience feels a bit like Disneyland, visitors should not be discouraged to venture past the turnstile and enter the fascinating city beyond.
Wuzhen is laid out in six districts, all reachable on foot or by waterbus.
The Traditional Dwelling Houses District includes the 19th-century former residence of revolutionary writer Mao Dun—who is said to be as famous in China as Shakespeare—and state-of-the-art boutique-hotels that seem right at home.
The Traditional Food and Beverage District has Fanglu Pavilion, considered the best teahouse in Wuzhen.
The Water Township Customs and Life District features the Wujinatang Salt Baths. These magnesium-rich waters increase circulation, and their anti-inflammatory properties are said to reduce the swelling of arthritis.
A Traditional Shops and Stores District has both inexpensive souvenirs and quality objets d'art.
The Traditional Culture District has a number of museums, including the fascinating Chinese Footbinding Culture Museum. Its offerings include 825 pairs of footbinding shoes, an array of footbinding tools and photographs of women who were physically altered by this ancient practice. For furniture aficionados, there is The Hundred Beds Museum containing beautiful examples of Ming and Qing dynasty beds.
Crossing from one district to another over ancient stone bridges and through Wuzhen's narrow alleys transports visitors back in time. Wuzhen's waterways are undeniably its highlight. In Xizha, along the Xishi River, bridges span the narrow canals and, together with ancient docks and waterside pavilions, are a photographer's delight. A ride in a small boat, propelled like a gondola, also provides many interesting angles and shots.
Two notable river crossings are the Tongji Bridge and the Renji Bridge, two arched spans that form a right angle. While standing beside one bridge, you can see the other through the opening; hence, the two bridges are named the "Bridge in Bridge."
For more information on Wuzhen, visit http://www.wuzhen.com.cn/english/index.asp.
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