Suzhou is one of China’s most historical and cultural cities. It also has over 60 well preserved classical gardens, nine of which are listed as world cultural heritages by UNESCO. So Suzhou is a city of gardens and not surprisingly a place that is blessed with both temperate climate and fertile soil.
Chinese classical gardens are also called scholar’s gardens for the landscape is inspired by legends and poems. They usually include small viewing houses, artificial mountains and rock gardens, a pond or lake, and flowers and trees. Each scene is carefully constructed and often hidden so that it feels like a landscape painting is being slowly being rolled out in front of you. The names given to the various structures indicate the gardener’s aspirations, such as “Listening to the sound of rain” pavilion.
The Humble Administrator’s Garden in Suzhou is the most famous existing garden from the Ming Dynasty. It was built in 1509 by a government administrator who decided to devote “his humble self” to gardening and has subsequently been altered several times. It is the largest classical garden in Suzhou and one of the four best-known gardens in China.
The garden is built around streams and ponds and contains 48 structures that were all designed for seeing the gardens from different viewing points. In the eastern part of the garden there are a number of ancient trees and it is very moving to see the degree of effort that is put into keeping old trees upright and alive.
The garden is divided into three sections. The main garden is at the centre of the property around a large lake lined with trees and elegant pavilions. Here you will find the Wafting Fragrance Hall, which is said to be the best hall in the country with lattice doors so that you can see the scenery from all directions. The most scenic spot to sit and watch the Chinese tourists go by is Fragrant Island.
There are zigzag bridges that slow you down, stone bridges where you feel you are walking on water, covered walkways that lead you in a number of directions so that it’s easy to feel a little lost. And who wouldn’t want to rest a while in the “Whom-to-sit-with” hall.
While classical gardens are derived from Mother Nature they are not intended to be a literal appearance of nature but an improvement on it. And even though they are created by man, they “must appear to have been created by heaven”.
This garden is indeed divine.
By Sylvia Fanjoy
Photo credits Sylvia Fanjoy
© Riding the buses 2012