Travel Destinations: Nanjing, China

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Travel Destinations: Nanjing, China

Other cities have long been jealous of Nanjing – with her fertile lands and prosperity, she has been known as the ‘and of fish and rice’ since antiquity. She owes her wealth to the ancient waterways of the Yangtze River and Grand Canal as people would use these as transport systems to carry silk and salt.

Nanjing has a long history. It was established as the capital of the Taipings during the Taiping Rebellion (1851 – 64). They called it Tianjing, or ‘Heavenly Capital’. The city also became the capital by the Nationalist Party until 1949 when it was taken over by the communists and moved it to Beijing.

There are many attractions in Nanjing, and something for everyone. The first place to go to would be Zijin Mountain, or Purple-Gold Mountain. It dominates the eastern edge of Nanjing and is a densely forested region of parks and famous historical sites. During the summer, it is a great way to escape from the scorching heat and high humidity. Take a 30 minute ride on a cable car to the top, 448 meters high, and look down on the city. An observatory sites near the top with a remarkable collection of Ming and Qing bronze astronomical instruments used by Jesuit missionaries.

Do you like something with a bit more culture and history? Why not visit Sun Yatsen Mausoleum, in the middle of the mountain? Dr Sun is recognised as the father of modern China who died in Beijing in 1925. Less than a year after his death, his tomb started construction, as per his wishes.

It lies on the very top of an enormous stone stairway consisting of 392 steps. The path starts with a stone gateway made out of Fujian marble and blue-glazed tiles as a roof. Hanging across the threshold of the memorial chamber is a tablet inscribed with the ‘Three Principles of the People’. Inside is a seated statue of the great Dr Sun.

Zijin Mountain is also home to the Ming Xiaoling tomb, the 14th century tomb of Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang. He was the only Ming emperor who was not buried in Beijing.

It is given the name Xiaoling after his wife Empress Ma, who is also buried here. It means ‘filial tomb’ and the Empress was known as ‘the filial empress’.

Part of the avenue which leads to the tomb takes you along the ‘spirit path’ – this path is lined with statues of horses, elephants, camels, lions and mythical creatures such as the xie zhi and a qilin, all who mean to drive away evil spirits.

The first courtyard has a beautiful pavilion with several stelae. The next courtyard leads to the Linghun Pagoda, a beautiful rectangular stone construction.

Want somewhere you can relax for an hour or two? The Botanic Gardens is a great place to unwind. This winding labyrinth of more than 3000 plant species was established in 1929 and covers more than 186 hectares.

As Nanjing was once the capital of the Taipings, it makes sense to visit the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom History Museum. The museum was once a garden complex that was built in the Ming dynasty. You will find everything related to this period, including maps showing the progress made by the Taiping army, coins, seals, weapons and texts.

The Heavenly Dynasty Palace is another place that any tourist must go to whilst in this beautiful city. It was originally built in the Ming dynasty as a school for aristocratic children to be taught court etiquette. Most of the buildings date from 1866 when it was rebuilt.

Want more culture and history? Go to the Ming Palace ruins. They were built by Hongwu and is said to have been modelled after the Imperial Palace in Beijing. Very little remains today, but the Five Dragon Bridges (Wulong Qiao), the ruined Wu Gate (Wu Men) and the gigantic column bases are still a sight you should not miss.

Temples are great palaces to visit in China, and Nanjing certainly has some great temples to visit. The Confucian Fuzi Temple, located in the south of the city, has been around for at least 1,500 years.It has been rebuilt several times and the version you see today dates from the late Qing dynasty.

Next stop, Jiming Temple. Close to the Ming walls and Xuanwu Lake, this temple was first constructed in 527 CE. This was during the Three Kingdoms period and has been rebuilt time and time after, keeping its name over the years since 1387. The name means ‘rooster crowing’ and during the Chinese New Year, it is full of people who come to celebrate at this beautiful Buddhist temple.

Nanjing is a great place to visit. It holds within its boundaries interesting museums, historical attractions, relaxing parks and breathtaking views.  

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