Suzhou, the Venice of the East
Suzhou is a major city located along the southeastern edge of Jiangsu Province in eastern China. Bordered by the Yangtze River in the north, Shanghai in the east, Zhejiang Province in the south, and Lake Taihu in the west, Suzhou is a major economic center and focal point of trade and commerce.
The city is divided by the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal from north to south. Since 42% area of the city is covered by water, including a vast number of ponds and streams, it is praised as the ‘Venice of the Orient. Built in 514 BC, it is an ancient city with over 2,500 years of history and numerous points of interest. The unique characteristics of the past are still retained today, like the double-chessboard layout of the city, with ‘the streets and rivers going side by side while the water and land routes running in parallel’.
The city’s canals, stone bridges, pagodas, and meticulously designed gardens have contributed to its status as one of the top tourist attractions and livable cities in China. The Classical Gardens of Suzhou were added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1997 and 2000. The most famous of them is the Humble Administrator’s Garden, the Master of the Nets Garden, and the Lingering Garden.
One of the best ways to tour the “Venice of the East” is from a front row seat on a hand-steered canal boat. Afterward, stop into 13-year-old Pin Von Teahouse for exotic teas served in private booths on the second floor. It overlooks Pingjiang Lu, an 800-year-old lively pedestrian street, one of China’s “National Historic and Cultural Streets”. In addition, there are two well-known ancient water towns near Suzhou: Tongli Ancient Town and Zhouzhuang Ancient Town.
Synonymous with culture and refinement, Suzhou seduced Chinese high society and many generations of artists, writers, and scholars attracted by the beauty of its gardens. The latter is a perfect combination of rocks, rivers, lakes, trees, and pavilions reflecting the taste for choices for balance and harmony. You will spend pleasant hours strolling through these gardens, visiting museums, and discovering canals, pagodas, and half-moon bridges.
Today, Suzhou has ten million inhabitants. It is developing with a new district and will soon be connected to Shanghai by subway.
Area: 8488 km²
Average annual temperature: 21 degrees
Geography: Located in the Yangtze River Delta
Population: 12,748,262 inhabitants. (2021)
Altitude: 4 m on average
Economy: IT, silk fabric, tea
Suzhou is located in a subtropical monsoon climate zone, so the weather is mild and moist with four distinct seasons. It’s best to pay a visit between January and April because the weather is not too cold and the flowers are in full bloom until June. The Plum Rain Season of June is followed by a hot July. After July arrives the harvest autumn of the pleasant climate.
The mild climate makes the city a desirable destination all year round. Touring the wonderful ancient water towns in the vicinity or lingering in the exquisite classical gardens in the downtown area, you will truly know the charm of a ‘paradise on earth. As the saying goes – ‘Gardens to the south of the Yangtze River are the best in the world, and Suzhou gardens are the best among them.
Suzhou is also a famous silk capital. Suzhou embroidery originated in Suzhou and is one of the four famous embroideries (the other three are: Hunan embroidery, Yue embroidery, and Shu embroidery) and one of the national intangible cultural heritages. It is one of the oldest embroidery techniques in the world and is the most representative type of art in Chinese embroidery, and has a history of more than 2,000 years. It is famous for its variety of stitches, beautiful patterns, elegant colors, and consummate craftsmanship.
Suzhou has its own unique, slightly sweet cuisine that tends to have very light and delicate flavors. Locals are very fond of freshwater fish and shellfish. Sweets made from glutinous rice paste are an old tradition here; these will generally baffle most Western palates. A Suzhou specialty popular with many visitors is Song Shu Gui Yu, often rendered in English something like “Squirrel-Shaped Mandarin Fish”: the meat of a large fish is delicately cut into strips, breaded in flour, fried, and served covered with pine nuts and a sweet-and-sour sauce. Also, when you go to Suzhou, you have to try these Suzhou-style savory mooncakes stuffed with pork filling enclosed in a flakiest crust to believe how tasty they are!
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