Located in Haikou, the capital of Hainan Province, Qilou Old Street features a stylish integration of European and Asian architectures, as well as Indian and Arabic influences. With delicately carved window frame and bricks, western-style Roman columns and arches, and various reliefs dotted under the roof and beside the window, the qilou buildings form the city’s most exotic landscapes, telling the old story that may touch your heart.
The origin of arcade architecture can be traced back over 2,000 years to ancient Greece. In Asia, qilou building makes its debut in India. In order to shield themselves from strong sunlight of India, British businessmen designed an arcade-style building with both Western and Eastern elements. In 18th century, this mixed architectural style was introduced to South East Asia, then to the coastal area of South East China.
In 1858, due to the signing of Tianjin Treaty, Haikou opened its door and became a commercial port. Later, the Haikou Custom was set up. Many countries like U.K., France and Germany established consulates in Haikou, which gradually grew into a booming modern city and a commercial hub trading with South East Asia. At that time, its well-developed sea transportation network connected Haikou to Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Saigon, Haiphong, Hong Kong, Xiamen, Taiwan, Guangzhou, Beihai and so on. Going back and forth between Hainan and South East Asia or the coastal area of mainland, Hainan businessmen brought architectural elements from different places back to Haikou, giving the city a Euro-Asian look.
According to historical record, the first qilou building in Haikou was built in 1894 at Sipailou Street, which is now called North Boai Street. The qilou building cluster initially came into being in 1820-1840. Standing between two and four stories in height, a Qilou has its ground floor set back halfway into the building so that it can be used as a storefront to take shelter from rain and sunlight. The upper floors serve as the living quarters, and extend over the pavement supported by columns.
The qilou buildings in Haikou are characteristic of mixed European and Asian architectural style. The top of each building is attached with a parapet, with one hole or two at the edge of the roof. The parapets are of European Baroque design. In addition to traditional relief pattern, Chinese elements are frequently applied, including dragon, phoenix, pine, egret, lotus, plum blossom, bamboo, chrysanthemum, and Chinese characters of good meaning.
Qilou buildings now can principally be found on Zhongshan Road, South Xinhua Road, East Jiefang Road, Boai Road and Deshengsha. In total, there are more than 200 Qilou buildings in the street. Historically, the street has housed consulates, churches post offices, banks and chambers of commerce belonging to 13 different countries. Today, it remains Haikou’s business center whilst giving you a taste of traditional life of Haikou. Salesmen in the shops, passers-by taking shelter from the rain, vendors having a short break, yelling hucksters, and young girls shopping along the street with hands in hands…you can see all these lively images in Qilou Old Street.
Undoubtedly, Qilou Old Street is a lively history book of Haikou city, and it was selected as one of the 10 Historical and Cultural Streets of China in 2009.