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Not a Factory in Sight: 3 Must-see Ancient Towns in Ningbo

If you wander the streets of Ningbo for long enough, you’ll eventually stumble across a ‘gu zhen’ (古镇), an ancient town. This is the type of China you read about in coffee table books before ever setting foot here: the one with quaint streams and cobbled streets; wooden signs and shop fronts and shutters, old women sitting on stone steps outside scrubbing their clothes in dented metal tubs. There are plenty of old towns surrounding Ningbo... let’s go back in time!

Not a Factory in Sight: 3 Must-see Ancient Towns in Ningbo
Photo: peter196698

1) Qiantong Old Town前童古镇
Situated 14km southwest of the heart of Ninghai County, Qiantong Old Town is one of the best preserved in Zhejiang Province, and is a prime example of the ancient ‘Confucian Culture’. Qiantong was established in the Song Dynasty and came to prominence in the Ming Dynasty, and to this day has managed to preserve over 1,300 examples of ancient housing from that era. There are around 2,000 households living in Qiantong these days, and today the vast majority of residents (80%) all have the surname ‘Tong’, thus giving the place its name of Qiantong.

Nearly all of the residents have kept the original Ming and Qing dynastic style to their homes, including the long wooden signs that hang off the eaves. Close by to the old town is a district full of ancient artists’ work; the buildings here have also been preserved in their original appearance. Above the Liangfang Gate there are exquisite carvings hinting at the elaborate skill of yesteryear, featuring jumping salmon, horses’ heads and ornate flowers. There’s an ancient shrine alongside old buildings, and the Tong Family Name Ancestral Hall with Imperial attic, built in the early Ming Dynasty and designed by Fang Xiaoru, according to legend. Qiantong is not a hot spot on the tourist map, and for that reason it is still very peaceful and worth the visit!

Add: Qiantong Village, Qiantong Town, Ninghai County, Ningbo
Admission: Adults 40 RMB; children 20 RMB
Accommodation: There are a number of hotels and hostels in the town; alternatively you can opt to stay in a family residence for a few nights. Prices for all these range from 30-120 RMB.
Getting there: From Ningbo South Bus station take the 108 or 203 and change at Ninghai Main Terminal. From here there are buses to Qiantong old town every ten minutes (10 RMB).

Not a Factory in Sight: 3 Must-see Ancient Towns in Ningbo

2) Shipu Old Town石浦古镇
You’ll find Shipu Old Town on the southern edge of ‘Elephant Mountain Peninsula’ (Xiangshan Bandao), and it’s one of Jiangsu Province’s famous historical ‘living fishing towns’ with over 600 years of history. Shipu was founded beside a mountain and next to the sea, thus the local ancient people said, “The city is on the dock; the mountain is in the city.” It sounds like crazy-speak, but it’s very, very old so what do you expect? One edge of the city is a bona fide fishing port, and the opposite side is buried deep within the mountain foothills, with the city walls being built around the fluctuations of the base rock. The city’s stone steps fluctuate like waves in a rock ocean, and after a day’s walking you’ll feel the benefit in your tight buns.

The oldest streets in Shipu are Wanxing Jie, Fujian Jie, Zhong Jie, Hou Jie and Yanchang Jie. Zhong Jie (‘Middle Street’) was built in the Ming Dynasty and is considered Shipu’s most famous and most bustling commercial street; most of the shops and houses on either side are made of wood, and around every 50m or so along the street you will find ‘Yuedongmen’ style protective walls – effectively barriers against wind and fire. Also in the town you’ll find the Chenghuang Temple, just on a hillside, recognizable by its wooden façade, and additionally, some great seafood restaurants!

Add: Xiangshan Bandao, Shipu Old Town, Ningbo
Admission: 60 RMB
Opening times: 07:30-19:00
Getting there: Take a coach from Ningbo’s south bus terminal all the way to Shipu East Station, then take the 1, 2 or 9 bus to the old town.

Not a Factory in Sight: 3 Must-see Ancient Towns in Ningbo

3) Cicheng Ancient Town慈城古县城
Wow! Another ancient town! This one is really old and really good though, so if you only have time to visit one, make it Cicheng, because it gets a 4-star rating from the tourist board, and it’s got over 1,000 years of history, apparently. Whether that is enough to prevent Starbucks and McDonalds taking over is yet to be seen though. Fortunately Cicheng has preserved many of its ancient buildings in the city’s 5km² radius, along with 33 protected cultural relic sites, including a Confucius Temple erected in 984 AD (Northern Song Dynasty) which is 318 years older than the Confucius Temple in Beijing and retains its original Ming dynasty appearance. The temple occupies over 7,000m² and features over 137 rooms for prayer and whatnot, so if you’re really into temples then here is where you want to be!

Being the stunning example of ancient Ming and Qing architecture, Cicheng also boasts some interesting ancient residential buildings, and if all the dusty brickwork is making you yawn, there’s also a natty art district where examples of ancient handmade art are on display. You’ll see examples of knitting, pottery, handmade jewellery and decorative painting.

Add: Cicheng Ancient Town, Ningbo
Admission: Confucius Temple 20 RMB; County Government 25RMB; Qing Housing 30 RMB
Opening times: Summer 08:00-17:00; winter 08:30-16:30
Getting there: You can jump on the 331, 335 or 337 bus from Ningbo town centre; they all go straight to Cicheng.

Jun 22, 2011   By  
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