Kaifeng city is located in the northern part of Henan province. It is one of China's most famous ancient capitals, with around 3000 years of history, and still today retains much of the charm, mostly in a small area enclosed by the Old City Walls.
Kaifeng became the most prosperous in Song dynasty as its capital city. It was one of the greatest cities in the world in terms of population and territory.
However, the city has also been plagued by many tragedies. Frequent floods, invasions and dynastic disintegration had taken place in Kaifeng. These floods, apart from destroying countless lives, also destroyed many of the beliefs, customs and buildings, Kaifeng kept trying to create.
The city scenic spots nowadays are mostly half destroyed relics or newly made memorials of these disastrous periods of history, including crumbling City Walls, remains of the old Synagogue and an Imperial Song Street.
In northwest Kaifeng, the Dragon Pavilion, formerly named Longevity Pavilion, was built in 1692, on the site of the former mansion of a Ming dynasty prince.
The most striking architectural feature of this pavilion is the stone staircases with blue stone centers, carved with traditional dragons. The Great Hall is elevated on a 13 m high brick platform from where visitors can enjoy stunning views of the nearby Pan and Yang Lakes. The pavilion also houses a tablet honoring the emperor and in imperial times, officials, soldiers and civilians would come to pay their respects. Inside the pavilion, there is also a wax figure museum bringing to life stories from the Northern Song period.
During the Song dynasty, when Kaifeng flourished as both the capital and a major trading post on the famous Silk Road, the city was famed for its illustrious architecture and opulent citizens. It was at this time that the imperial street was built, meant for the exclusive use of the emperor, that extended from the Imperial Palace's Grand Gate to the outside of the city wall. The street was over 5 kilometer long, and was lined on both sides by beautiful ancient architecture.
The new Song Imperial Street, recreating, in miniature, the original route, is built partly on the original site of the Palace. The street is only 400 m long, on the northern section of Zhongshan Lu, and was designed in 1988 in an attempt by the authorities to restore the glorious past of Kaifeng. The final product is not the greatest feat of architectural design, but is definitely worth a look, even if only for those hunting for gifts.
The street is entered by an arch at the southern end, and is clustered with shops and restaurants, including a couple of good art and nice curio shops. Most of the commodities sold here are travelers' souvenirs such as Henan specialties, artifacts, calligraphy, New Year pictures and traditional paintings. All of the shopping assistants are dressed in traditional Song dynasty costume.
Standing on a hill, north of the Henan University in the northeastern part of the city, the pagoda was first built in 982 (during the Song dynasty). It is a Buddhist pagoda where the finger bone of a dignitary is kept.
The pagoda, made of an entire timber frame, was kept in Kaibao Temple when it was originally built. Later in 1049, the surface of the pagoda was covered with iron-colored glazed tiles and it gained the name Iron Pagoda.The temple was renamed several times in the successive periods and was finally pulled down during the Qing dynasty.
The 13-story pagoda rises to about 60 m with an entire timber frame interior. On the brick basement are exquisite carved patterns of animals, Buddhist motifs and flora. It has stood for over 900 years and remains intact. A park has been built for the pagoda to which several halls and temples have been added. It provides a good venue for the appreciation of Chinese carvings, inscriptions and color-painted statues.
Standing on the bank of a crystal-clear lake (Baogong Lake, named after Lord Bao) in the city center, is a complex of Song-dynasty buildings. Like most temples in China, the layout contains several courtyards flanked with side halls. Artificial rocks, springs and pavilions were built to enhance the surrounding scenery.
The complex is situated on a one hectare land and contains halls, pavilions, corridors and some side structures. In the Great Hall, a bronze statue of Lord Bao, 3 meter high, 2.5 tons in weight, gives tourists a great impression of the revered hero. In the next hall, some epitaphs and Lord Bao's inscriptions are exhibited. In the next 2 halls, pictures and waxwork depicting anecdotes of Lord Bao can be found.
Lord Bao (Bao Zheng) was a Northern Song official well-known for his incorruptibility and uprightness. He was a judge renowned for his fairness in settling lawsuits and became a hero to many. Many of his heroic acts are depicted in Chinese opera and plays.
Xiangguo Monastery is on Ziyou Road and was first built in 555. The temple was most active during the Northern Song dynasty when it housed more than 1,000 monks in 64 halls. However most of the halls still found in the temple date back to the Qing dynasty. In the glazed-tile covered Octagonal Hall, you will find a wooden statue of the Avalokitesvara Buddha. This 5 m statue is a masterpiece devoted to detail, and the deity has 4 faces and 1,000 hands and eyes.
The bell tower holds a giant bronze bell made in the Qing dynasty. Standing 3 m high it is known as the "Frost Bell of Xiangguo", because apparently, when frost forms on the bell its ring can be heard throughout town.
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