Even though we are limited in our abilities to roam freely, traveling is still one of the most important activities for me.
Over the past weekend my wife and I traveled to one of the ancient capitals of China. It is not Xi'an though. This time we went to Nanjing.
Nanjing is a city of roughly 8.5 million people, so comparably small and cozy, at least according to the Chinese standard... (no joke, that's what people think around here). And compared to Shanghai it really is quite cozy. I want to share with you some of my experiences and pictures that I took - please excuse the poor quality of the images, I am upgrading my hardware soon.
Nanjing, nowadays capital of China’s eastern Jiangsu province, is roughly 300 km up the Yangtze River from the city of Shanghai. It took us roughly 1.5 hours by high-speed train to get there from Hongqiao Railway Station.
Nanjing used to be the national capital during part of the Ming dynasty. Many monuments and landmarks remain, including Zhonghua Gate (Gate of China), a preserved 14th-century section of the massive wall that contained the old city’s southern entrance.
The old city wall...
The City Wall of Nanjing was designed by the Hongwu Emperor (1328–1398) after he founded the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) and established Nanjing as the capital in 1368. To consolidate his sovereignty and defend the city against coastal pirates, he adopted the suggestions of his advisor Zhu Sheng to build a higher city wall.
The construction of the wall required the labor of 200,000 workers over 21 years to complete. The City Wall of Nanjing was among the largest city walls ever constructed in China. The enclosed Nanjing City is about 55 square kilometers, the old wall used to be roughly 32 kilometers long. The layout of the city and the city wall later inspired the layout of the Forbidden City in Beijing.
We took a walk along the city wall just before sunset when the light enhances all the colors of the sky, the river and the trees - and our senses were blessed with a hint of osmanthus in the air provided by the blooming trees along the side of the wall.
Niushoushan and the Usnisa Temple...
Nanjing’s Niushou Mountain (牛首山, "cattle head"), named for the two peaks on its east and west side, is home to possibly one of the world’s most marvelous Buddhist palaces built in modern times. The 197-acre area is host to Usnisa Palace.
Although not without its legacy - Nanjing’s Niushou Mountain can claim a centuries-old history of Buddhist cultural association and it’s also where China’s famous explorer Zheng He is buried - the area has hitherto been relatively unknown compared to other attractions in Nanjing.
That is until just few years ago when a piece of parietal (skull) bone from Sakyamuni - aka the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama himself - was unearthed from within a stone chest beneath a Buddhist temple in Nanjing. Commemorating this find, the local government and the Buddhist Association of China have spent the last three years (and a cool 4 billion RMB, approx. 500 million Euros) developing the Niushou mountain cultural park and Usnisa Palace. They opened to the public in 2015.
Overall, it's a stunning site and worth a visit. It was quite empty since it's seemingly not a top priority site to the Chinese (yet), or just a little bit off the radar. The architecture, but also the history of this place really got under my skin since I am a big fan of modern as well as ancient architecture. Seeing both of these things come together at a single venue makes it all the more special and beautiful to me.
The tomb of Sun Yat-sen...
The vast, park like area with tall trees, flower gardens, and other beautiful landmarks, called the "Purple Mountain" is just outside the city wall. This parkland is dedicated to tombs, smaller temples and memorials dating back to the Ming Dynasty but also boasting some of the historically most relevant sites in China. One of them is - without a doubt - the Mausoleum of Sun Yat-sen.
Sun Yat-sen was a Chinese politician, physician, and political philosopher, who served as the provisional first president of the Republic of China and the first leader of the Kuomintang - the Nationalist Party of China. According to Wikipedia, he is referred as the "Father of the Nation" in the Republic of China for his instrumental role in the overthrow of the Qing dynasty during the Xinhai Revolution. Sun is unique among 20th-century Chinese leaders for being widely revered in both mainland China and Taiwan.
We specifically went there to get a glimps at the statue and the tomb. It's a little climb up the side of the mountain to get there but it's worth it since the views of Nanjing from up there are stunning.
The Confucius Temple District...
We spent the last night of our stay in Nanjing around the area of the old Confucius Temple, also known as Nanjing Fuzimiao (Chinese: 夫子庙; lit.: 'Confucian Temple'). Originally, the temple was constructed in the year of 1034 in the Song Dynasty (420-589). It suffered repeated damage and has been rebuilt on several occasions since that time.
It is a lively and very well kept neighborhood with a lot of small shops, restaurants and pagoda roofed buildings. There are around 50 to 60 original village sites that have been found on the banks of Quinhuai River. Other attractions include historical sites, gardens and folk customs. The highlight for many is probably to take a ride with one of the boats on Qinhuai River to get an ever better look at the whole area from the water. We didn't do it though.
To say the least, we have truly enjoyed visiting Nanjing, even though it's only been two days. There is plenty to see and we were lucky that we went there just after Chinese Golden Week (Independence Day and Mid Autumn Festival) so there weren't as many tourists as usual. Getting around the city with the metro was very easy and convenient, we also tried using the bus and DiDi, both worked fine.
We'll probably go there again since there are many sites where you can spend more than just the few hours we had to spare - a whole day at the Purple Mountain for example.
The travel itch has been scratched but I am already looking forward to cross another place of my list, may it be Xi'an, Guilin, Chengdu or a place further away... For now, let me say this: China, the culture, the architecture and the nature that we've been able to discover so far, is truly beautiful.