Tongli is an age-old but very well preserved water township with a history of more than 1,000 years. It is located in east China’s Jiangsu Province, just 18 kilometers (11 miles) from Suzhou City and about an hour drive from Shanghai.
The town is characterized by stone bridges and well preserved ancient architecture including private gardens, temples and houses.
15 small river lanes crisscrossed the town, over which spans around 49 stone bridges in variety of styles. Bridges are important parts of the town. Among the 49 bridges in Tongli, the three most famous bridges are called Peace and Tranquility (Taiping) Bridge, Luck (Jili) Bridge and Lasting Celebration (Changqing) Bridge, which have been important landmarks of the place and regarded as the sacred architecture by the locals. Whenever there is an important occasion, such as wedding, people would like to walk through the three bridges, which is supposed to bring about peace, fortune and happiness in their lives.
Tongli Water Town deserves its reputation of a ‘museum of ancient architecture’ as there are many houses and temples dating from the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Built along the riversides and decorated with flying eaves, carved windows, figured clay bricks, and small stairs leading down to the water, many of its buildings have kept their traditional facades, with stark whitewashed walls and black-tiled roofs.
Retreat and Reflection (Tuisi) Garden is the most spectacular in Tongli. Due to the limitations of the terrain, and the garden owner refusing to show his riches, the garden is laid out horizontally instead of vertically, breaking free from conventions. The dwellings are in the west; a courtyard in the middle; the garden in the east. The garden has a wide pond, and scenic spots are arranged along the pond. Retreat and Reflection Garden is a masterpiece among southern China’s private gardens and has been enrolled in the list of World Cultural Heritage by UNESCO.