Songjiang (Shanghai, China) The Traditional City


It was love at first sight with Songjiang, a stylish city, just about an hours drive from Shanghai. Full of fresh air and with loads of attractions tucked away in every nook and corner, this was an ideal place for visitors who would like to spend the weekends on day trips.
Not much is known about the history of Songjiang except for the fact that this 1000 year old city was bustling with activities during the days of the opium traders. But for the present generation, the county hosts one of the most prestigious Universities of the country and has even carefully preserved its treasures bringing back and restoring the unique feel of the old charm amid modern architecture.
Songjiang’s main attraction till date is undoubtedly the Square Pagoda, popularly known as Fang Ta. A neat cobbled pathway from the main entrance led us to the pagoda site and from a distance this slender, nine storey wooden tower looked absolutely gorgeous.  It was once a part of the Xingshenjiao temple, from which, only a single hall remains now with a courtyard full of trees with red ‘wish’ ribbons tied on every branch. Known to have been built between 1068 to 1077, during when, a brick vault was discovered under the foundation of the tower and it was known to have contained a bronze Buddha and a few ancient relics. Even though the pagoda has been recently restored, over half of the original wood is still intact. An interesting thing near this was a screen wall, right in front of the pagoda, depicting the ‘Tan,’ the legendary monster that died trying to drink up the sea. Stony stairs behind the pagoda lead upto a man made pool and lush green gardens via artistic gates and roofed corridors. Paddle and row boats can be hired for as less as yuan 15 per hour for a joy ride on the pool. Right next to the Fang Ta park is the Songjiang museum, not that publicised or commercialized, yet it displays some very interesting artifacts of the Tang Dynasty. Notable among those were the black pottery, various designed Chinese porcelain, calligraphy, paintings and most importantly the statue of Buddha and the brick vault that was excavated from the Fang Ta site.   
Earlier known as the Chong’en pagoda, Xilin Ta, the other pagoda in the city derived its name from the temple within which it is located. The restored version of this seven storey structure is very similar to the earlier one but the entire temple complex with the drum and bell towers, prayer halls and different statues of ‘Amitabha’ Buddha inside these halls, brought an instant feel of serenity.
Songjiang even hosts one of China’s oldest mosques, the Songjiang Qingzhensi. The architecture is just beautiful with screen walls, gate towers, inscriptions from past dynasties and the usual bethel. The entire complex is decorated by well maintained gardens that even included a man made bamboo forest with a neat and narrow pathway running through it…..absolutely majestic. Within this forest were numerous stone structures and an ancient Juniper tree, adding to its natural grandeur.

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