Classical Chinese garden design, which seeks to recreate natural landscapes in miniature, is nowhere better illustrated than in the nine gardens in the historic city of Suzhou. They are generally acknowledged to be masterpieces of the genre. Dating from the 11th-19th century, the gardens reflect the profound metaphysical importance of natural beauty in Chinese culture in their meticulous design.
Justification for Inscription
The Committee decided to inscribe this property on the basis of criteria (i), (ii), (iii), (iv) and (v), considering that the four classical gardens of Suzhou are masterpieces of Chinese landscape garden design in which art, nature, and ideas are integrated perfectly to create ensembles of great beauty and peaceful harmony, and four gardens are integral to the entire historic urban plan.
The Classical Gardens of Suzhou are masterpieces of Chinese landscape garden design in which art, nature, and ideas are integrated perfectly to create ensembles of great beauty and peaceful harmony, and the gardens are integral to the entire historic urban plan.
The Canglang Pavilion was built on the order of the Northern Song poet Su Sunqin in the early 11th century, on the site of an earlier, destroyed garden. During the Yuan and Ming dynasties (1279-1644) it became the Mystical Concealment Temple. Over succeeding centuries it was repeatedly restored, a tradition maintained by the People's Republic of China. It is reached across a zigzag stone bridge, when the mountains, covered with old trees and bamboo, suddenly become visible. The square pavilion stands on top of one of the mountains, inscribed with an appropriate text.
The Lion Forest Garden was created by a group of Zen Buddhist disciples of the famous Abbot Tianni in 1342, during the Yuan dynasty, as the Budhi Orthodox Monastery. The garden, which attracted scholars and artists, was detached from the temple in the 17th century. It features a series of man-made mountains with various buildings, disposed around the lake, together with an artificial waterfall on steep cliffs. The 14th-century mountains are still clearly visible. The woodland cover of the craggy mountains is pierced by winding paths and there are many caves and grotesque rocks. There are 22 buildings in the garden, the most impressive of which is the Hall of Peace and Happiness, a masterpiece of the Mandarin Duck style of hall.
The Garden of Cultivation was laid out during the Ming dynasty, in the 16th century. A quarter of the total area is occupied by the central pond, which has a mountain landscape to the south and a group of buildings, to the north. The two sides are linked to east and west by roofed open galleries. It is very typical, both in its layout and in the design of its thirteen buildings, of the classical Ming dynasty garden.
The origins of the Couple's Garden Retreat date back to the Qing dynasty, in the early 18th century. The structures consist of four aligned buildings. The East Garden is dominated by a dramatically realistic mountain of yellow stone which rises from a pool flanked by several attractive Ming style buildings. The style of the West Garden is more subdued, its limestone hills pierced by interlinking caves and tunnels.
The Retreat and Reflection Garden is the work of the famous painter Yuan Long, who built it in 1885-87. The group of buildings is linked with the garden proper located to the east by a boat-shaped guesthouse. Once again, the central feature of the garden is the pool, surrounded by a series of elegant buildings, the most striking of which is the double-tiered Celestial Bridge. The Gathering Beauty Pavilion overlooks the entire garden from the north-west corner.
The oldest gardens are probably the Mountain Villa with Embracing Beauty, whose origins go back to the end of the 16th century. Although it covers less than 500 m2 it is intensively detailed, with high peaks rising to 7 m, dells, paths, caves, stone houses, ravines, precipices, ridges and cliff.
The Humble Administrator's Garden has been the site of the residence of Suzhou notables since the 2nd century AD. Its central section is a recreation of the scenery of the Lower Yangtze. Rising from the lake are the tree covered east and West Hills, each crowned by a pavilion. The variety of plant species is great.
The Lingering Garden dates from the end of the 16th century is occupied by buildings. The central part features mountain and lake scenery, encircled by buildings and visited by means of a narrow, winding path which gives unexpected views of great beauty.
The Garden of the Master of the Nest is entered from the south through a rare form of gateway flanked by enormous carved blocks of stone, which designate the court rank of the owner. Once again the central feature is a pool, encircle by a covered walkway. The layout of buildings and gardens is extremely subtle, so that a small area gives the impression of great size and variety. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC
The city of Suzhou is situated in the Lower Y angtze Basin alongside Lake Tai. It was founded in 514 BC as the capital of the Wu Kingdom, and has remained the political, economic, and cultural centre of the region since that time.
The earliest gardens in Suzhou date back to its foundation in the 6th century BC, but it was during the Ming and Qing Dynasties, and in particular the 16th to 18th centuries, that the city's prosperity resulted in the creation of as many as two hundred gardens within its walls. Their quality and profusion earned Suzhou the title of the "Earthly Paradise."
The oldest of the four gardens that form this nomination is probably the Mountain Villa with Embracing Beauty, whose origins go back to the end of the 16th century, when it belonged to the Royal Academician Shen Shixing.
The Humble Adrninstrator's Garden has been the site of the residence of Suzhou notables since the 2nd century AD. It was the Ming Imperial Inspector Wang Xianchen who built the present complex, when he retired from public life in 1509 and returned to his native city.
The Lingering Garden dates from the end of the 16th century and is the work of Xu Taishi, also a high Imperial official. Its present name was given to it in 1873 by the Zhengs, who paid a graceful tribute to the former owners, the Liu family, since the Chinese word for "lingering" is similar to the name of this fami1y. When Deputy Minister Shi Zhengzhi lived in Suzhou in the late 12th century he called his house "The Fisherman's Retreat," and this idea was picked up in late 18th century by Song Zongyuan when he created the Garden of the Master of the Nets. Source: Advisory Body Evaluation