The classical gardens of Suzhou date back to the 6th century BC. More than 50 of these gardens are still in existence and 9 of them are regarded as the finest examples of Chinese “mountain and water” gardens, according to UNESCO World Heritage. The earliest of these is a garden called the Canglang Pavilion, which was first built in the early 11th century by the Northern Song poet Su Sunqin. During its hundreds of years of history the Canglang Pavilion has been abandoned and reconstructed many times.
You enter the Canglang Pavilion by crossing a wide canal on a zigzag stone bridge. Through the tall entrance door the view is of a mountain covered with age-old trees. At the foot of the mountain are rocky slopes. Different paths lead the way up the mountain and at the top is the square Canglang Pavilion, for which the garden is named. It is elegant and simple in design, a tranquil spot to rest for a while and appreciate the natural-looking scenery that surrounds it.
A sign lists the features:
The fish watching spot
The entrance to the garden
The Canglang Pavilion
The mountain-in-view tower
The winding roofed walkway
Fancy opening in the wall of the garden
Bamboo fences and latticed windows
The stone house
– Source: UNESCO
Indeed, the garden is a reflection of traditional Chinese culture, incorporating rock formations, buildings, calligraphy, furniture, and decorative artistic pieces. Ancient trees and bamboo plants have been placed to portray forests. The buildings and scenic sections are connected by a long roofed walkway. On the walls of the corridor are 108 lattice windows of various designs through which to view the garden features.
There are 20 different buildings arranged around the mountains in the garden. Most of them are quite simple. The main building is called the Enlightenment Hall. There is four-sided structure beside a pond called Facing the Water Veranda and a square building called Fishing Terrace that is a perfect place to watch different varieties of fish swimming about. Other buildings include the Mountain in View Tower, the Elegant Bamboo House, the Temple of 500 Sages, and the Pure Fragrance House. Today, Facing-the-Water Pavilion is used as a teahouse.
Classical Chinese gardens are considered masterpieces and thankfully the techniques used to create a miniature world within limited space have been handed down from generation to generation. They have also had a significant impact on the development of landscaping around the world.
The Canglang Pavilion was my favourite Suzhou garden, probably because the space is so intimate. I enjoyed walking the paths, climbing the mountains, sitting in the pavilion, looking out on the ancient trees. While great skill is needed to so artfully imitate nature in such a small space, I would love to replicate some of these features—however modestly—in my garden at home.
By Sylvia Fanjoy
Photo credits Sylvia Fanjoy
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