Situated in Yunnan province within modern centre of Dali City, is the exquisitely well preserved, Dali Ancient Town. Surrounded by ancient walls, the site has incredible centuries old architecture built in the historic style of the Bai peoples, and numerous attractions. Nestled amid stunning natural beauty, the town has become a tourist destination in the area. Dali Ancient Town is a must-see attraction that definitely cannot be missed.
- Dali Ancient Town encompasses a total area of roughly 2.25 sq km.
- The ancient town (and the modern Dali City) has become one of China’s official tourist cities.
- It is located on a plain at the southern section of the Yun Mountains, which comprise the larger Hengduan Mountains, and the southeast portion of the Tibetan Plateau.
- To preserve the authenticity of Dali Ancient Town, strict building codes have been implemented and must adhere to the traditional Chinese architectural style.
- The ancient town is located approximately 10 km south of Xiaguan, within the modern Dali City.
History Of Dali Ancient Town
The Bai people first inhabited the area surrounding Dali Ancient Town about 3,000 years ago. The Bai are an East Asian ethnic group who reside in Yunnan, Guizhou, and Hunan provinces. There are estimated to be over 2 million ethnic Bai, with the vast majority residing in the Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture, which incorporates Dali City and Dali Ancient Town.
During the 8th century AD, Dali became the capital of the Nanzhao kingdom, which was situated in modern Yunnan province. At that time, it was referred to as “Longweicheng” and first constructed by the Nanzhao ruler, Poluoge. Two centuries later, it became the capital of the Dali State in 937 AD, until the region was conquered the Mongols in 1253 AD.
Because of its prime location, Dali Ancient Town served as a gateway to the Silk Road in southwestern China during the Ming dynasty. The town became an important trade centre for the region, and its market was a famous hub for Chinese merchants and ethnic minority groups. It was also a strategic military site in Yunnan province, with an important fortification. The wall surrounding Dali Ancient Town is roughly 6 km (3.73 miles) long, 7.5 m (24.6 ft) high, and an astounding 6 m (19.7 feet) thick.
By the 19th century, tea had become the principle commodity of trade in the area. Dali Ancient Town’s tea market was one of the most important in all of Yunnan province. In the early 20th century, tea processing likewise became an important industry for the area. The town continued to flourish further, with the completion of various infrastructure projects during the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), specifically the “Burma Road”. Said road enabled Dali to become the principal commercial centre for all of western Yunnan province.
Today, Dali is a renowned tourist destination. Recognizing its significance, the Chinese government has deemed it as one of the country’s cultural and historical cities. In addition, Dali Ancient Town has been designated a national-level scenic resort.
Culture Of Dali Ancient Town
Because of Dali Ancient Town’s historical and cultural importance, there are many highlights for visitors to enjoy including the Dali Museum, the ancient city gate, and the Three Pagodas. The Three Pagodas is a cluster of three pagodas that comprise the Chongsheng Temple, located 1.5 km north of Dali Ancient Town. Arranged in a triangle formation, these three structures date from the 9th and 10th centuries during the Nanzhao Kingdom. The largest, known as Qianxun Pagoda, was built sometime between 823 and 840 AD during the reign of King Quan Fengyou. Measuring 69.6 m (227ft) high, it is one of the tallest pagodas ever built in China. The other two pagodas were constructed about a hundred years later, and are located to the northwest and southwest of Qianxun Pagoda.
The Wenxian Building is situated about a km away from the south gate entrance of Dali Ancient Town. The south gate is considered a landmark of the ancient town, and is known as the first gate of the city. First constructed during the reign of the Kangxi Emperor of the Qing dynasty, this two-storey structure was built in the traditional Bai architectural style. Unfortunately since its initial construction, the building has sustained significant damage, and thus, has been rebuilt. Today, it covers a total area of around 1,600 square meters.
Because all of Dali Ancient Town was constructed in the historic Bai architectural style, it possesses a very unique feel. Traditional Bai architecture incorporates three structures in a “U” shape, with a fourth wall acting as a screen and a courtyard located in the centre. Houses are usually built of brick and wood, and painted white. Traditional Bai dwellings also usually have ornate detailing consisting of tile paintings, woodcarvings, marble screens, and clay sculpture, amongst other things.
- The spring is a good time to visit Dali Ancient Town, as there is stunning natural scenery surrounding the site. March and April are also important months for the Bai people, as several festivals and events are held during this time.
- Dali Ancient Town can be easily accessed by local public transit buses in Dali City, which connect with Xiaguan. In addition, long-distance buses also run from Kunming and Lijiang.
- The closest airport and train station to Dali Ancient Town is located in Xiaguan.