Northwest of Suzhou, and steeped in history, Nanjing’s prominence has ebbed and flowed with the wayward tides of fortune, having several times been the capital of China, once under the first Ming Emperor, who constructed the famous city wall. When the third Ming Emperor moved the capital to Beijing in 1420 AD, the city’s political prominence declined.

Qinhui River, Nanjing, China

With the arrival of the British, Nanjing was the site of the infamous and shameful treaties made in the wake of the Opium wars. Nanjing briefly regained its status as capital during the republican era (1928–1937) and again in the early communist era between 1945 and 1949.
 
Confucius Temple, Nanjing, China

Nanjing’s Ming Dynasty city walls are among the best preserved in all of China, with around two thirds of the original thirty five kilometre wall remaining, the best other surviving examples being those of Pingyao and Xian, following the incomprehensible Maoist destruction of these remarkable features almost everywhere, and Beijing in particular. 

Unlike the walls in Xian, which are rectilinear, the walls at Nanjing, unusually for a Chinese city, conform instead to the undulating landscape. At a height of 12 metres (40 feet) the 7 metre (23 feet) wide wall originally had thirteen gates of which only eight now remain. It is possible to walk sections of the wall from the eastern Zhongshan Gate. 

Spirit Path, Ming Xiaoling Tomb, Nanjing, China

Outside the city walls, the tomb of Ming Xiaoling, the first Ming Emperor is the only Ming burial site outside of Beijing and is accessed via a beautiful ‘spirit path’ similar to that of Emperor Chang Ling at the Ming Tombs in Beijing, likewise fringed by trees and wonderful animal statues, including lions, camels, horses and elephants.    

Beyond Lingun Pagoda, a long tunnel leads to the burial mound, surrounded by pavilions and Zixia Lake, where you'll also find the Mausoleum of Sun Yatsun, housing the remains of the ‘father of modern China’.

Nearby, another much larger lake at Xuanwu Lake Park is a delightful place to view the Ming Walls which skirt along its southern and western fringes. The 9.5 km lake path provides a pleasant walk and at the centre of the lake, accessible via a series of walkways, are five islets which feature a bonsai garden, bamboo grove and beautiful trees.

Xuanwu Lake Park, Nanjing, China

Beyond the western wall, and not for the fainthearted, lies the Memorial Hall of the Nanjing Massacre, which provides an explicit window into the terrifying Japanese occupation of Nanjing in 1937.

In the south of the city, Fuzi Temple, long a centre of Confucian studies lies at the centre of the main shopping zone.

 

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