Chinese Name: 大理古城 Pronunciation: Dà lǐ Gǔ Chéng
Occupied Area: 4 square miles
Admission Ticket Fare: Free
Opening Hours: All Day
Suggested Visiting Hours: 3 Hours
Address: No. 42, Yita Road, Dali City, Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan Province.
Best Travel Time: Dali Old Town is worth visiting all year round. There are more people in March and April. March and April is the best time to travel to the Dali Old Town. At that time, the weather here is very warm and comfortable, and many lively festivals are celebrated by the Yunnan people. We should not miss it.
Dali Old Town, referred to as Yucheng, is located at the foot of the beautiful Cangshan Mountain, 13 kilometers away from Xiaguan of Dali city.
Dali Old Town is adjacent to Erhai Lake in the east and Cangshan Mountain in the west. The history of Dali Old Town in western Yunnan Province can date back to the Tianbao period of the Tang Dynasty. Dali Old Town was built in 1382 in the Hongwu period of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), covering an area of 3 square kilometers. Dali is one of the first 24 famous historical and cultural cities in China announced by the State Council on February 8, 1982.
Dali Old Town is the political, economic, and cultural center of Yunnan in the history of more than 500 years of the Tang and Song dynasties. As an ancient city, Dali is one of the earliest birthplaces of Yunnan culture. According to the documents, the ancestors of the Bai nationality lived here more than 4, 000 years ago.
What's more, Dali city is one of the first ten charming cities in China as well as an inhabited area inhabited by ethnic minorities, mainly the Bai nationality. Dali Old Town is also the core area of Dali tourism.
People's Road, the main road of Dali Old Town, is also the most prosperous one of the old town. A lot of foreign tourists come here for a visit. All kinds of antique shops, handicraft shops, and bookstores distribute on both sides of the road. In the middle of Wucheng Temple and the antique market in the old town, some old men or women perform tie-dye. Tie-dye is very attractive to tourists, especially foreign friends.
Cangshan gate is the west gate of Dali Old Town, on the opposite March Street. Because Cangshan Mountain is located in the front of the west gate of Dali Old Town, the west gate is also called the Cangshan gate.
In foreigner’s street, a wide variety of novelties and foreign goods can be found.
Attracted by the noticeable words "Foreigner Street" engraved on the street, many tourists take photos here. In the evening, the bars in the street are open. At this time, the foreigner's street is extremely busy. One of the most famous bars in foreigner’s street is the Tang Dynasty bar. All kinds of jewelry shops, antique shops, tie-dye shops, galleries, and restaurants with Chinese and Western flavor distribute along the street.
Wuhua Tower is one of the landmark buildings in Dali Old Town. In ancient times, the Wuhua Building in Dali was an official gathering place for distinguished guests. Wuhua Building is five stories high and it can entertain ten thousand people. Wuhua Tower has been burned down and rebuilt several times in history, and has gone through thousands of years of vicissitudes. Rebuilt in 1998, the modern Wuhua Building is a four-story building with a height of more than 20 meters. The lower floor is the pedestal, and the upper three floors are the buildings.
The Nancheng tower was built in the 15th year(1382) of Hongwu period of Ming Dynasty(1368-1644), and the local people gave another name Double Crane Tower to it. According to the legend, the ancestors of Dali followed the two cranes to this wealthy land and settled down. These mottled bricks reflect it has a history over six hundred years. Walking westward along the tower, Cang Mountains, half covered by clouds, is getting closer and closer with a rich flavor of bricks lingering in the fingertips. Gentle green plants are blooming in the cracks of the bricks. I can’t help sighing: the time is too short and the journey is too long. In the 40th year(1701) of the reign of Emperor Kangxi of Qing Dynasty(1636-1912), the inscription “State Rich in Literature” in Yunnan Province means that there are many talented people in Dali and the ancient books are well preserved. In the 317 years of Dali state history, the whole country believed in Buddhism. Therefore, the Nancheng tower becomes the only tower in which Buddhist niche is hidden behind the gate in the whole nation.
Fuxing Road is the main street from south to north in Dali Old Town. From the 15th year(1382 A.D.) of Hongwu period of Ming Dynasty to Qing Dynasty and the Republic of China, there is no big change in the pattern of streets and residential buildings. By the 1990s, Dali Old Town has become an important tourist town, and Fuxing Road has evolved into a tourist commercial pedestrian street which promotes a diversified economy with local characteristics, such as tie-dye clothing, Heqing silver ornaments, marble crafts, Burma jade, Pu’er tea, preserved fruits, etc. What’s more, Cherry blossom which opens twice a year, and the annual International Orchid Camellia Expo has become the biggest highlights of Fuxing Road.
Fuxing Road, which connects the north and south towers, is the main road of the Dali Old Town. It connects the streets and alleys distributed in the ancient city, besides, the gray and blue stone slabs and the green grass on the roofs on both sides of the road tell the changes of time and the traces of wind and rain. After years of rainfall, the cobblestone embedded in the wall exposed. The exquisite and elegant ink painting on the white wall has experienced various vicissitudes, telling people the unique and long story of the city.
The Bai ancestors have labored, lived and multiplied in Erhai area since more than five thousand years ago. They have gone through the vicissitudes and regime changes of the Tang dynasty(618-907), Five Dynasties(907-960) and two Song dynasties(960-1279). The architectural style of the ancient capital is fully reflected in Fuxing Road. At the beginning of the evening, the warm lights cast by the shops on both sides and gray blue stone slabs outlined the melody of light and shadow.
Du Wenxiu’s mansion, listed as one of the museums in Dali, is located in the middle of Fuxing Road. The mansion, originally built in the second year(1663) of Kangxi period of Qing dynasty, functioned as yamen (government office in feudal China).
In 1856, the anti-Qing uprising, led by Du Wenxiu, broke out in western Yunnan. The uprising army occupied the governor’s office and recommended Du Wenxiu as “Grand Marshal of the presidential army” and renamed marshal’s mansion.
In 1872, the uprising collapsed. In order to protect tens of thousands of people in the city from being slaughtered, Du Wenxiu swallowed Kongque Dan (a kind of poison in China) and died in formal dress at the age of 49 in the Qing army camp. Later, the Qing government restored the yamen into Dali History Museum. The museum consists of many parts, including the Exhibition Hall of Historical Relics, Sihewutian(one typical building pattern in Dali city)and the Stele Forest.
Water is not only a kind of spirit but also the soft soul between Cang Mountains and Erhai. In the past, apart from the stream from Cang Mountains, there was lots of underground well water in Dali ancient city. These ancient wells with high-quality and sweet water are distributed all over the ancient city, and the well water has become the main source of living water for the ancient city residents.
Later, the name of the well was used by people to refer to a street or a living area. Hong long well, a collection of Dali Old Town culture and natural beauty, has got many tourists’ sincere praise-- “The beauty of the Dali Old Town lies in the water; water in Hong long well is second to none.” In the evening, many antique and fashionable bars attract tourists. Listening to the sound of the whispering water, tourists are able to appreciate the tranquility when walking on the dim path.
Bai nationality is a multi-cultural nation. At the beginning of the 13th century, Genghis Khan led the Mongolian army to conquer many Islamic countries in the Central and Western Asia. On their way back, the Mongolian army incorporated many Muslims in Islamic countries into the “Tanmachi Army”.
The army led by Kublai khan conquered Dali and stationed in many places after arriving in Yunnan province. The arrival of Muslims had brought about a lot of changes in Dali, the construction of mosques in Yuan Dynasty(1271-1368) in particular. Many Muslim groups that retained the traditional customs of Muslim formed in Dali, which could be illustrated by the eating habits of Dali people.
It is a true portrayal of Dali people's life that every family has running water and beautiful flowers. It is said that few places in the world offer the scenery that men take flower cultivation as their daily task and take their love for flowers as an honor. Ancient city residents in their leisure time are fond of planting and appreciating flowers to cultivate their moral character.
People in ancient city love to cultivate eight kinds of famous flowers such as Camellia, Rhododendron, Magnolia, primrose, lily, gentian, orchid and meconopsis. Those eight famous flowers can be seen everywhere in Dali ancient city.
As we all know in China that, “The camellia in Yunnan province is the best in the world, and the camellia grows in Dali is the best in Yunnan province”. Camellia flower has been a famous historical flower in Dali for many centuries, and there are various sorts of flowers. Many famous Camellia brands such as Hentiangao, Yudai Zipao, Zhusha Zipao, Peony tea, and Tongzimian can be found in this flower street. No matter what kind of flower it is, a flower can be a paradise.
Dali used to be known as “Miaoxiang Ancient city”(Miaoxiang means beautiful and attractive). Most of the local residents believed in Buddhism. By its special geographical location, Dali has been the gathering place of multi-religious cultures since ancient times. In addition to Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Catholicism, Taoism and other religious sects have left traces of their activities in the Dali Old Town. For all traces of those religions in the ancient city, the Catholic Church is the architectural masterpiece among these religious materials and cultural carriers.
Those Catholic Churches witnessed the history of the integration, change and development of the national culture in Dali area, forming unique Dali national architectural characteristics. It is famous at home and abroad for its unique architectural appearance, exquisite carving art and the cultural atmosphere which combined Chinese and Western culture. Every year, the church attracts thousands of priests and religious friends from all over the world.
Wu Temple is the largest temple as well as the cultural essence and gathering center of the whole Dali ancient city. The temple fully displays Dali’s historical culture and folk culture, and it is also a symbol of Dali’s martial culture. Apart from the emperor Guan, the temple also enshrines and worships 63 Benzhu (the guardian angel in Bai nationality, it can be gods or some famous historical figures). So far, it is the only Benzhu temple among the 30,000 Wu temples in the world.
On February 15th in lunar calendar every year, people from all over the country gather here to hold a grand Chunzhan festival to pray for a bumper harvest by worshiping the emperor Guan . Then people can watch performances in the Wu Temple as well as listen to the ancient music of Dongjing(one ancient Chinese scripture), taking commercial trade and walking around market stalls.
Hong long well was originally an ordinary stream in the ancient city of Dali. After careful decoration made by the relevant government departments, it becomes an attractive stream winds down the street with cheerful signs. There are small fish, shrimp and clamshells in the water. On both sides of the stream are lush weeping willows. The slender willows are hanging like silver thaws into the surface of the water. Under the decoration of weeping willows and crystal sound of running water, Hong long well was dressed like a classical good-looking woman.
There is a beautiful story that happened in Hong long well. It is said that during the period of Dali state, there were two old streets which are not far away from each other in the west of the Dali Old Town. One is called Hong long well, the other is called Dashuiqing. Dashuiqing is a place where ancient city residents process rice and noodles. Many families there have their own water mill (A mill, driven by water, can be used to grind flour) and water-powered trip-hammer (for husking rice).
There is a family surnamed Zhao. The father and daughter kept a water mill and a water-powered trip-hammer respectively to support their livelihood. The daughter, named Zhao Nǚ, was 16 years old. One day, the blade of the water mill fell off , so Zhao Nǚ went into the water to repair it. Suddenly, she saw a foot-long red carp swimming in the water. She picked it up and raised it in a bucket. She felt that the carp was very lovely, so she let it go back into the water. One night, the daughter was sitting under the light of the mill to embroider. She suddenly raised her head and saw a very handsome young man in red standing in front of her. The man said: “I am the red dragon of Yeyu city. I live in Hong long well which is not far away from here. I believe that you are a kind-hearted woman, and we are destined to be husband and wife.” The daughter was surprised and pleased, and since then, she had been in constant contact with the man. Before long, the daughter married him privately. A few months later, Zhao Nǚ was pregnant, which was known by her father. Pressed by her father for the truth, she had to explain to her father what happened. That night, the young man met his father-in-law.
Zhao Nǚ was pregnant for three years before she gave birth to a son, but the son was born with a three-inch long tail. The grandfather was afraid of being criticized, and then he cut the tail. When the son’s father heard of this, he sighed: “if the dragon has no tail, it will be difficult for him to fly. When he grew up, he can only stay on the earth and become the earth Dragon.” Later, he took out two treasures and gave them to his wife. One was a dragon bead and the other was an iron tablet. The son’s father told his wife: “The name of our son is Zhao Jianwei. When our son is 18 years old, there will be a heavy drought, and what you just need to do is sinking this iron tablet into the Hong long well, and I will give you a favor.” After that, Hong long was no long came to dashuiqing(the place Zhao lives in). When Zhao Jianwei was 18 years old, there was a severe drought, and the corn died due to the long drought. The emperor of Dali announced that the people who can put an end to the drought would get the reward. At that time, the Zhao family condition was very bad. The reward reminded Zhao Jianwei’s mother of the iron tablet left by the red dragon. Later, the son went into the palace and said that he could end the drought. Zhao Jianwei sank the iron tablet into the Hong long well at noon. Two hours later, the dark clouds were gathering in the sky, and two hours later, a torrential rain fell from the sky. The rain kept up for two days and nights and the fields were wet. Finally, the emperor rewarded Zhao Jianwei. This beautiful legend has witnessed the diligence and kindness of the Bai people.
Walking in the area of Hong long well, the buildings which are full of strong Bai architecture characteristic are arranged in a row. There are various kinds of gorgeous and colorful handicrafts. The sound of gurgling water, the sound of creating silverware and the melody of gourd greeting our eras. You will unconsciously slow down your steps when coming into Hong long well area. When the stars are hanging all over the sky, the Hong long well area appears to be particularly warm and soft. The antique red lanterns also cast gentle light on people. The attractive music conceals all the noise and impetuousness. The faint fragrance of flowers, the shadows of trees, the sound of silver bells like laughter and the melodious serenade make people from all over the country relaxed and happy. When comes to Hong long well, people will unconsciously integrate into the local life which features with freedom and tranquility. And people will come home with thorough enjoyment.
On the afternoon of a warm winter, residents of Dali Old Town enjoy a leisure time chatting with friends at the door of the tea room and have a cup of Pu’er tea. Tourists from other places are eager to take photos but fall into the water by accident in order to grab a better position. So they simply stand in the water and played with their companions, leaving their happy laughter in the water of Hong long well.
When appreciating Hong long well, we can not only listen to the moving ancient legends and stories of Dali people, but also feel their harmonious civilization, social stability and prosperity.
Fuxing Road → People’s Road → Foreigner’s Street → Boai Road
Take bus No.8 at the Dali Railway Station, and the fare is 3 yuan. You can reach the Dali Old City within 55 minutes.
Chinese: 请带我去大理古城。English: Please take me to Dali Old Town.
If you go to Dali Old Town from Dali Railway Station by taxi, it takes about 40 minutes and costs 50 yuan.