To trace the footprints of old Beijing, Nanluoguxiang may be the best place to go. Nanluoguxiang, ranked as one of the 25 best Asian flavored tourist destinations by Time Magazine, is one of the oldest and best preserved historical areas in downtown Beijing. Here, you will see various old hutongs and the most authentic and intact courtyards, and each hutong has its own culture and each courtyard has its own stories.
Nanluoguxiang, covering about one square kilometer, is situated in Dongcheng District, Beijing. In the east is South Jiaodaokou Street, in the west is Outer Di’an Gate Street, in the north is East Gulou Street and in the south is East Di’an Gate Street. With a history of more than 740 years, Nanluoguxiang saw the building of the then-capital of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) in Beijing.
The pattern of Yuandadu is that on the east of the palace where emperors lived is Imperial Ancestral Temple (Ancestral Hall or Taimiao) which is to worship ancestors, on the west is Altar of Land and Grain, and in front of the palace is a market. Nanluoguxiang is part of the market. During the Yuan Dynasty, Nanluoguxiang also served as an axis and it was divided into two lanes (fang): Zhaohui Fang in the east and Jinggong Fang in the west. And there are 8 Hutongs on the east side and west side respectively.
From north to south, the 8 east-to-west hutongs on the east side include: Ju’er Hutong, Houyuan’ensi Hutong, Qianyuan’ensi Hutong, Qinlao Hutong, Beibingmasi Hutong, Dongmianhua Hutong, Banchang Hutong and Chaodou Hutong. The 8 hutongs on the west side are: Qiangulouyuan Hutong, Heizhima Hutong, Shajing Hutong, Jingyang Hutong, Mao’er Hutong, Yu’er Hutong, Suoyi Hutong and Fuxiang Hutong.
These hutongs are all straight and wide, basically the same as they once were. They form a fish-bones-like shape or shape of centipede. So, Nanluoguxiang is also called Wugong Lane (centipede is called wugong in Chinese).
Nanluoguxiang now has the best preserved Yuan Dynasty hutongs and courtyards and is the largest and highest-graded chessboard-type traditional residence with the most abundant resources. Many royal families and high officials once lived here: The former residence of China’s last empress, Wanrong (1906-1946), is in Mao’er Hutong; Chiang Kai-shek (1887-1975) lived in Houyuanensi Hutong; and the famous artist Qi Baishi (1864-1957), lived in Yu’er Hutong for some time. And now there are still residents living nearby.
This nearly 800-meter long North-South alleyway is famous not only for its hutongs and courtyards but also for the cafes and bars and clothing and handcraft shops. It is the third most popular bar street in Beijing after Sanlitun and Houhai. There are sayings that Sanlitun Bar Street is colorful, Houhai Bar Street (Shichahai Bar Street) is dark red and Nanluoguxiang Bar Street is jade green. The colors may not be the only thing that expressed in these sayings and their cultures are probably the most important thing. Some bar names to remember are Pass By, Backward Bar, Here Cafe and Salud.
To know more about the old Beijing and appreciate its elegance, come and explore Nanluoguxiang. You are sure to be satisfied. Our President Xi Jinping also visited the Nanluoguxiang on Feb 25, 2014.
Nanluoguxiang is located several kilometers north of the Forbidden City and just east of Houhai Lake.
The best way to visit Nanluoguxiang area is on foot, by bicycle or pedicab.