WHS: Old Town of Lijiang, China

Heading south to the Chinese province of Yunnan now, today’s visit is to a city which was the meeting point of the Silk Road and the Tea Horse Road: the

Old Town of Lijiang

Old Town Of Lijang


The Old Town of Lijiang is located on the Lijiang plain at an elevation of 2,400 meters in southwest Yunnan, China, where a series of strategic passes give access through the surrounding mountains.

The Yulong Snow Mount to the north-west is the source of the rivers and springs which water the plain and supply the Heilong Pool (Black Dragon Pond), from where waterways feed into a network of canals and channels to supply the town.

The Old Town of Lijiang comprises three component parts: Dayan Old Town (including the Black Dragon Pond), Baisha and Shuhe housing clusters. Dayan Old Town was established in the Ming dynasty as a commercial centre and includes the Lijiang Junmin Prefectural Government Office; the Yizi pavilion and Guabi Tower remaining from the former Mujia compound and the Yuquan architectural structures in the Heilongtan Park.

Numerous two-storeyed, tile-roofed, timber-framed houses combining elements of Han and Zang architecture and decoration in the arched gateways, screen walls, courtyards and carved roof beams are representative of the Naxi culture and are disposed in rows following the contours of the mountainside. Wooden elements are elaborately carved with domestic and cultural elements – pottery, musical instruments, flowers and birds.

The Baisha housing cluster established earlier during the Song and Yuan dynasties is located 8km north of the Dayan Old Town. Houses here are arranged on a north-south axis around a central, terraced square. The religious complex includes halls and pavilions containing over 40 paintings dating from the early 13th century, which depict subjects relating to Buddhism, Taoism and the life of the Naxi people, incorporating cultural elements of the Bai people. Together with the Shuhe housing cluster located 4km north-west of Dayan Old Town, these settlements nestling in mountains and surrounded by water reflect the blend of local cultures, folk customs and traditions over several centuries.

The vivid urban space, the vigorous water system, the harmonious building complexes, the comfortable residences of appropriate size, the pleasant environment, and the folk art of unique style combine to form an outstanding example of human habitat…

“Network of canals and channels” doesn’t really do it justice — the place is a rather outstanding example of hydroengineering a little Venice up in the mountains! OK, we exaggerate, but not that much:

Water plays an important role in the Old Town’s unique architectural style, urban layout and landscape as the main street and small alleys front onto the canals and some buildings and numerous bridges are constructed across the canals. As an excellent example of human habitat showing a harmony between man and nature, the Old Town is a remarkable tribute to human ingenuity in land use…

It is that, indeed. The iconic symbol of this is place is these monstrous water wheels

Old Town Of Lijang

that supply canals throughout the town

Old Town Of Lijang

so everywhere you go there’s bridges and houses built right on the canals like this:

Old Town Of Lijang

It’s quite remarkable that a system like this dating back to the 12th century or so is still functioning today!

And while you’re there, definitely visit Black Dragon Pond Park and climb the hill to this tower,

Old Town Of Lijang

from which you get this view of the Old Town, and the new town too, and all the way to peaks of the Three Parallel Rivers WHS in the distance…

Old Town Of Lijang

… which is quite the place to fly over on your way from Tibet …


p dir=”ltr”>… which is the way we definitely recommend you come to visit Lijiang, more on that next time!


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  1. […] in our last visit, to the Old Town of Lijiang, we mentioned that the way we recommended to get there was by flying from Tibet. Not only is that a […]

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