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Tongli -- The Water Town

Tongli, the best-preserved water town in Jiangsu province, is located in east of the Grand Canal, close to Taihu Lake and 18 km away from Suzhou. The town occupies a total area of 62 square km with a population of 33,500. Surrounded by water, Tongli sets among the five lakes of Tongli, Jiuli, Yeze, Nanxing and Pangshan, and i
s divided into seven islands by 15 rivers and combined into a whole with 49 ancient bridges. Intersected by so many rivers, nearly all the architectures in this town were built facing water, which bestowed the town a name "Venice in the East". Fortunately thanks to these lakes and waterways, the little Town stayed away from wars since it was hardly accessible in the old times, which made the ancient buildings well preserved up to now.

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The layout of the town and the residences along both banks retain the traditional style. Occupying half of the total, the Ming and Qing buildings including the houses, small exquisite courtyards and gardens are the highlight of Tongli. Decorated with flying eaves, brick carvings, elegant windows, they are mostly built towards the water, sometimes with a small garden in their rears. In order to be convenient for washing, small stairs were built in front of the house leading down to the river.

In ancient times, the charming environment of the little town attracted many noblemen and distinguish families built their private gardens here in succession. The building complex, featured by the harmonious combination of residential houses and gardens, are especially unique and rare to see in other places. The "Retreat and Reflection Garden" built by Ren Lansheng, a retired official of the late Qing dynasty is regarded as the largest and most famous garden downtown. The name of the garden given by the official followed the concept that "When in office, one should be loyal to the emperor, when away from office, one should meditate upon his previous faults."

As a water town, bridges in Tongli always play an important role in people's daily life. There are 49 bridges downtown, in which Taiping, Jili and Changqing are well known. Exquisite and simple, Taiping Bridge was built in 1747 during the Qing dynasty, while Changqing was rebuilt in the Ming dynasty and Bridge Siben, built in the Southern Song dynasty, is the oldest one in Tongli. There is a smallest bridge named Dubu, only 5 feet in length and 3 feet in width which has attracted many visitors stop to see it.

Tongli is also rich in culture and education in the ancient times. The town was once famed for its achievements in the imperial examinations and had produced many notable scholars and officials. About 40 stone tablets carved with the deeds of the celebrities are well preserved and a number of its streets and alleys were named after the official titles such as Zhuangyuan Street, Tongzhi Street, etc. Tongli was open to the public in 1986 and ten years later, it was listed as one of the first historical and cultural towns in Jiangsu province and has become one of the most popular tourist programs in recent years.

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