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Yu Yuan Garden Walkthrough

Yu Yuan Garden Shanghai

Courtesy of CNTO

The beauty of Yu Yuan Garden will transport you back to ancient Shanghai.

Yu Yuan Garden is the most complete classical Chinese garden in the urban area of Shanghai, and as such is well worth a visit. In 1559 during the Min Dynasty, local official Pan Yunduan created Yu Yuan as a private garden for his father. Over the years, the garden became overgrown and fell into disrepair until a group of merchants purchased it in 1760. The garden was opened to the public in 1961 and has since been declared a national monument. Ming Dynasty pavilions, goldfish ponds, elaborate bridges and beautiful rockeries cover this five-acre expanse that is divided into six sections by intricate dragon walls. Though the garden’s beauty is serene and should be peaceful, the hordes of tourists can make it stressful, so it’s best to visit Yu Yuan early in the morning to avoid the crowds. You should plan on carving out two hours of your day to take a leisurely tour of this historical garden. The best way to navigate around the garden is to grab a map and travel clockwise.

When passing through the main entrance, the first sight that you will come to is Sansui Hall, the largest of the garden’s grand pavilions. It was built in 1760, after the merchants purchased Yu Yuan. The highlight here is the harvest-themed carvings on the windows and wood beams.

Continuing on north from Sansui Hall, you will enter Yangshan Hall. This two-storied tower with the iconic upturned eaves of Chinese architecture is the entrance into the Grand Rockery. Head to the upper story for a view that overlooks the rock garden.

Follow the pathways around the pond to the Grand Rockery and prepare to be impressed. Designed by Zhang Nanyang, a famous garden artist from the Ming Dynasty, this rock garden consists of 2,000 tons of rare yellow stones that have been fused together with rice glue to evoke the imagery of mountain peaks, ravines, caves and ridges. Standing at 46 feet high, the Grand Rockery was the highest point in the city when it was first built (for reference, the highest building in Shanghai is now the World Financial Center at 1,614 feet).

To the east of the Rockery is a small pavilion called the Yule Pavilion or Pavilion for Viewing Frolicking Fish, where you can find some of the schools of happy carp and goldfish that inhabit the waters of Yu Yuan. If you continue east, you will come across a four-century-old gingko tree in the courtyard of the Wanhua Chamber.

After exiting the Wanhua Chamber you will come to the Relic Hall and Dianchun Hall in the northeastern corner of the garden. The Dianchun is probably the most historically famous building in Yu Yuan. In 1853 the secret Small Sword Society, who plotted to join the Taiping Rebellion in China that aimed to overthrow the Qing Dynasty, ran their operations from this hall. You can find some of artifacts from the uprising here, such as weapons. Continuing through the garden to the south, past the Kuailou Pavilion is Hexu Hall. The glass-enclosed hall contains a display of Qing Dynasty furniture that was created by hand from the roots of the banyan tree. To the west of the hall is one of the garden’s famous dragon walls that separate the garden into the six areas. Break your clockwise path here to follow the dragon wall westward to the Nine Lion Study, then return to your path heading south towards the Yuhua Hall, or the Hall of Jade Magnificence.

The southern courtyard of the Yuhua Hall holds the most notable stone sculpture in the garden, Yu Ling Long. It is believed that the rock originally belonged to the Huizong emperor of the Northern Song from Lake Tai, where many of the rock sculptures found in classical Chinese gardens were submerged to be naturally carved and shaped. Yu Ling Long represents mountain peaks with its rough, craggy and pitted appearance.

To the south is the last area of the garden, Nei Yuan or the Inner Garden. This part of the garden was created in 1709 but not added to Yu Yuan until 1956. It is usually quieter and more peaceful in this part of the garden, so enjoy it. The buildings in this part are works of architectural art, particularly the Hall of Serenity (Jingguan Hall) and Guantao Tower. The Ancient Stage further south in the Inner Garden is an ornately carved pavilion where local artists and calligraphers will sometimes display and sell their works.

Loop back around to the entrance of the Inner Garden to find Yu Yuan’s exit, which will take you back out to Yu Yuan Road. On your way out, travel down the zigzag bridge to have tea at the Huxinting Teahouse overlooking Yu Yuan. This is just a highlight of some of the most impressive sights in Yu Yuan, so be sure to take the time to look at your map and visit all of the pavilions.

218 Anren Road, +86-21-63282465, Hours: 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Admission: Approx. $6  

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