Nicknamed 'The Human Paradise Oriental Water City in Suzhou' by the local tourism board, Shantang Street is reminiscent of the history and ancient civilization of the olden days China.
The Shan Tang Ancient Street, or Shan Tang Jie (山塘街) is one of the most famous streets, or water towns in Suzhou. Though the status of water town may not live up to that of its other counterparts of pride; such as Tongli, Zhouzhuang, Wuzhen, and Xitang, the cobblestone and canal-parting streets adorned with the bridges still form a pretty picture of the rustic charms of the old identity of Suzhou, as a water town in the past.
If that fact is not enough to get one all pumped up at the mention of the streets, then a few historical facts may attract more attention to this top notched tourist attraction in China; if not Suzhou alone.
Built in the reigning period of Emperor Baoli of the classical Tang Dynasty, Shantang; originally the name of the river was the brainchild of Bai Juyi, a famous Chinese poet during that time made an official to serve the government. As Bai joins his office, he was concerned about the muddy river and the inconveniences caused to the water transportation.
It was said that Bai was on the sedan chair when he himself was caught in that area; where the river was so full of mud that it was stuck, and the water transportation were all facing a turmoil in the flow. He decided then that something needs to be done, and ordered for roads to be built near the Tiger Hill where the terrain stood, and that the river needed to be cleared to restore the transportation flow.
The few major points the river flew through; from the east to the west, are also spots of tourist interest; Dushenqiao Bridge (渡僧桥) was the origin point of the river where it is located near the Changmen City gate (阊门) and ends at the western part, Wangshanqiao Bridge (望山桥).
The Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal which the river is linked to is a strategic area; and the Shantang river flowing through it and the streets did lead to contributing to its busy boom in business until this very day. It is not hard to guess then that the streets owed its name to the river; as it became known as the Shantang Streets today.
Apart from the canals, bridges, water flowing, tasseled red Chinese lanterns and the ancient wooden shophouses lining the streets, Shantang is also home to modern commercialization as prospective and aspiring small-scale vendors set up their businesses in food, souvenirs and textile here.
Besides the tacky souvenirs sold here, there are also many which brings the ancient and Oriental characteristics to life.
There are beautiful characteristic paintings by skilled painters, and those just speak more than a thousand words to describe the beauty of this ancient street.
Restaurants serving authentic Chinese cuisine dating back to the olden days of the dynasties are also part of the commodity lineage on Shantang, and do keep a watch on the unique food stalls; there is one serving a 300-years of history cake which was quite reasonably priced and tastes good too!
The picturesque view of Shantang takes on a more magical turn as the sun slowly disappears below the horizon and one can revel in the charming sight of soft hues of light from the buildings and also the classical tasseled Chinese lanterns swaying lightly in the wind.
The shimmering lights cast their reflections onto the surface of the shiny water flowing through the river, and the whole scene just looks so pretty that it is a sight not to be missed at all.
I would highly recommend one to take in the best of both worlds and to come here in the afternoon and not leave until night falls, or miss one of the best night scenery, if I may say, in the world!:)
These streets may be booming with business and commercial life these days, but it still did not rip off the images of the ancient days as one can simply picture women washing their clothes by the river with steps leading into the river from the buildings or even boats floating on the surface of the water are just the few iconic scenes leaping into the mind.
The streets are worth exploring until the end; as one takes a step away from the drizzling lights of classic modernization into the past taking place at the old Shantang street at the other end.
It is like a time capsule between these points; and the difference is evident in the buildings, the walkway, and also the people ruling the streets.
It may not be as touristy as the earlier part of the streets, but there is just something enchanting about the rustic scene unfolding before one's eyes.
Shantang Jie/Streets is a place not to be missed if one is ever in Suzhou, and after enjoying that exploration of the history, there is Shi Lu which offers a glimpse of modernization with bustling malls, fast food outlets and city taxis all over the place.
The time capsule offered by Shantang Streets is definitely more attractive to me, and it leaves a lingering scene and feeling on one's mind.
It is no wonder that this place is admired by many; from poets to writers in the past and the following are only a few of those that mentioned the beauty of these streets, if you are keen and interested:
1. Street appearance in a Qing Dynasty's famous painting by Xu Yang (徐扬); "Growing Prosperously During Peaceful Times"
2. Mention of the street in one of the Chinese famous classics; "Dream of the Red Chamber" by Cao Xueqin (曹雪芹)
Shantang Street is a magical place, and a time travel machine to take us back to the past...