Situated in Lijiang City is the historical centre of Lijiang Ancient Town (also known as the Old Town of Lijiang). This extraordinarily well-preserved ancient town is of tremendous cultural significance, as it is the main urban area for the Naxi people. Likewise, it has a history spanning over a thousand years being an important centre of trade for between Yunnan, Sichuan, and other points on the Silk Road. UNESCO deemed Lijiang Ancient Town a World Heritage Site in 1997. With its rich history and cultural significance, Lijiang Ancient Town is a must-see attraction that cannot be missed.
- Lijiang Ancient Town is located in Yunnan province on the Lijiang Plain at an altitude of 2,400 m (7,874 ft) above sea level.
- The ancient town covers a total area of 145.6 ha (360 acres).
- It is sometimes referred to as “Dayan Old Town”.
- Lijiang Ancient Town is world-renowned for its spectacular architecture, which is a combination of several different cultures, and the incredible ancient water supply system that is a marvel of engineering and ingenuity.
History Of Lijiang Ancient Town
Lijiang Ancient Town possesses a rich history spanning over a thousand years. There are three ancient districts that comprise the site including Dayan Old Town, the Baisha housing cluster, and the Shuhe housing cluster. Both the Baisha and Shuhe Quarters were established during the end of the Southern Song (1127-1279) and beginning of the Yuan (1279-1368) dynasties. From the 12th century onward, the site had become an important trade distribution centre and economic hub between Yunnan, Sichuan, and Tibet. Lijiang Ancient Town was also the main settlement where the Silk Road connected with the “Tea and Horse” Roads.
Lijiang Ancient Town was an important cultural and economic centre for numerous ethnic groups including the Naxi, Bai, Han, and Tibetan people. As a result, Lijiang Ancient Town contained a district combination of architecture, art, culture, and customs from these ethnic groups.
An intricate waterworks system was constructed during this period of prosperity, and is an engineering marvel. The complex water system is a series of canals that originate from the surrounding snow-capped mountains, and run through the villages and farmland. The canals are channeled into ponds and wells that are located throughout Lijiang Ancient Town. The main street and alleyways all front onto these canals, and several bridges were constructed across them.
During the early Ming dynasty, Dayan Old Town was established as a commercial centre. This part of the site includes several important administrative buildings, as well as tile-roofed, timber-framed houses that combine both the Han and Zang architectural styles.
In February 1996, Lijiang and the surrounding area sustained a 7.0 magnitude earthquake. Some of the structures and bridges in Lijiang Ancient Town were damaged, however, were subsequently repaired and rebuilt. On December 4, 1997, UNESCO designated the ancient town as a World Heritage Site.
Culture Of Lijiang Ancient Town
For centuries, Lijiang Ancient Town has been the cultural hub for several ethnic groups including the Naxi people. The architecture within the ancient town is reflective of the Naxi culture, and combines elements of Han and Zang architectural styles as well.
The main street of Lijiang Ancient Town is Square Street (or Sifang Street), covering a total area of about six acres. This is considered the centre of the ancient town. Four additional streets branch out from Square Street in different directions and form a network that connects every corner of the site. Streets are made of large bluestone, which is local to the area. The majority of the structures found within the ancient town, date from the Ming and Qing dynasties.
Because it is comprised of numerous canals, there are over 300 bridges in Lijiang Ancient Town. Water has played an integral role of the ancient town since its inception. Some of the more famous bridges found in the town include Dashi Bridge, South Gate Bridge, Suocui Bridge, Saddle Bridge, Renshou Bridge, snd Wanqian Bridge. All the surviving bridges were constructed during the Ming and Qing dynasties.
Wufeng Tower is another popular site in the ancient own. Constructed during the Ming dynasty in1601, the three-storey tower measures about 20-metres high. It is an excellent example of the Yuquan architectural structures.
The Mu Palace is a popular highlight in Lijiang Ancient Town. The Mu Clan of the Naxi people ruled the area for several hundred years. For centuries, the Mu Palace acted as the administrative centre for the Lijiang region. Several important cultural relics are housed here, including many important paintings and finely crafted wooden doors. In 2006, it was deemed a national AAAA scenic spot by the Chinese government.
- The best times to visit Lijiang Ancient Town are in the spring from late March to May, and autumn from mid-October to November.
- If visiting the ancient town during the winter months, visitors are advised to pay warm clothing. The temperature at night hovers around the freezing mark.
- If visiting during the rainy season between June and September, bring rain gear.
- Visitors to Lijiang Ancient Town must be mindful that the elevation is 2,400 m (7,874 ft). Upon arrival, visitors are advised to allow their bodies to acclimatize.