The Beauty of Chinese Classical Courtyard
Among the Chinese architecture, the Jiangnan's gardens are a classic, the essence of which can be spotted when you step into one of the wealthy and influential families’ mansions.
The Former Residence of Hu Xueyan is known as "No. 1 Mansion in Jiangnan", but looking from the outside, you will find it is quite low-key. Except for the continuous high walls, there seems to be nothing unique about it. However, the moment you step into its gate, the charm of Jiangnan Noted Gardens will be revealed.
Hu Xueyan was previously a businessman and later a government official. In addition to operating money houses and real estate, he also did well in arms, raw silk, and other businesses. In 1872, he spared no expense to construct a mansion, which covered an area of 10.8 mu (1 mu is roughly equal to 666 sq m) with a construction area of 5,815 sq m. The ancient mansion has a compact layout and sophisticated design, and enjoys the title of "No. 1 Mansion of the Chinese Tycoon in the late Qing Dynasty".
The mansion is mainly divided into three parts: the central axis area, the eastern courtyard, and the western Zhiyuan Garden (芝园).
Baishi Tower (simplified Chinese: 百狮楼; literal meaning: Hundred-Lion Tower) is the main architecture in the central axis area. It sits north to south and has five wide rooms. Grand and magnificent, it was used to receive VIPs and hold major festivals and other grand social activities. 10.8 mu (1 mu is roughly equal to 666 sq m) with a construction area of 5,815 sq m. The ancient mansion has a compact layout and sophisticated design, and enjoys the title of "No. 1 Mansion of the Chinese Tycoon in the late Qing Dynasty".
The eastern courtyard is the place where Hu’s family members lived. The buildings are well-arranged. The Zhiyuan Garden in the west is the essence of the mansion. Throughout the Zhiyuan Garden, there are ancient trees on the shore, sprinkling water in ponds, spacious buildings, and towers, and well-proportioned pavilions and platforms. The corridors of the whole garden are connected, so as the ponds. The rockery in the garden is as high as five feet, and there are four holes from east to west, varying in height and extending in all directions.
Pavilions and Towers
The Former Residence of Hu Xueyan is really an exquisite folk craft treasure house. It is well versed in the principle of "hiding but not revealing" with a narrow door leading to a bright and broad space.
Looking from the rockery, you will see the high and low delicately-carved pavilions, platforms, buildings and towers, all elegant and harmonious. The mountains, rivers, and green trees not far away echo them. Wandering among them, you can quietly “taste” the distinctive Jiangnan charm of this ancient mansion.
In the mansion, the buildings blend with the garden. There are many rockeries in the garden. They have different shapes, but they are all unique. When there is sunshine, light and shadow overlap, extremely beautiful.
Under the rockeries in the garden, there are hidden caves. It is said that it is the largest existing artificial karst cave in China. The karst cave twists and turns, and is the marvelous work of the uncanny workmanship of nature.
Enter the karst cave covered by green plants, and you will find that it is a world on its own. The small holes on the walls of the cave are like windows, through which you can see the scenery outside. In addition, on the cave walls are engraved with stone calligraphic works such as Zheng Banqiao's cursive calligraphy, Huang Tingjian's cursive calligraphy and Qi Weinan's cursive calligraphy. In it, you can slowly experience the cultural treasures left by the predecessors.
Running Water under A Small Bridge
Jiangnan's gardens are always inseparable from the ancient bridges and poetic water. There is a three-hole stone arch bridge on the west side of the large pool of Zhiyuan Garden. The small bridge spans both sides of the small river, and the stone slabs on the bridge are slightly moist, with dark green moss. With the early morning light shining on the bridge, people feel like they travel back to the Ming and Qing dynasties.
In this ancient mansion, the Huizhou carvings, wood carvings and stone carvings that can be seen everywhere on the roof beams are extremely delicate, and high-end wood like red sandalwood, rosewood, Phoebe zhennan, araucaria are extensively used in the mansion.
This brick sculpture, "Five Lions Playing with A Embroidered Ball", is on the fine brick wall on the east side of the Tianjing (Sky Well) of the gatehouse. Because "Five Lions Playing with A Embroidered Ball" means "five generations alive at the same time", many people can't help but touch it with their hands to get a blessing.
In the morning, the morning light pours down from the sky, shining through the carved wooden doors on people gently. At that moment, the ancient mansion seems to come alive and seems to give people the illusion of having opened the "door of time".
Courtyard Sky Wells
The Former Residence of Hu Xueyan is a typical Huizhou-style building complex with high walls, deep courtyards, heavy doors, and narrow windows, which keep it from the outside world with only the Tianjing (simplified Chinese: 天井; literal meaning: sky well) connected to the outside world. In the old mansion, there are small courtyards, and every courtyard has a Tianjing.
These Tianjings hanging in the air with the azure sky above and the ground below are really unique in style and charm. The sky is even more beautiful when looking from Tianjing in the ancient mansion than watching it on the open ground. Every time I see the sunlight shines directly through Tianjing, there is a warm and soft feeling arising in my heart.
The Bright Corridor and the Dark Lane
From the sedan hall, a covered long corridor called Minglang (simplified Chinese: 明廊; literal meaning: Bright Corridor) leads to the residential area of the mansion. At the end of the corridor is a long lane, which looks dim due to poor lighting, hence the name Anlong (simplified Chinese: 暗弄; literal meaning: Dark Lane).
The Bright Corridor and the Dark Lane are intertwined with each other. Stepping into the mansion and walking through the Bright Corridor and the Dark Lane is like walking towards ancient history.
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