Dali Ancient City is 13 kilometers (8.1 miles) away from Xiaguan in Dali City, Yunnan Province and is one of the 'Three Ancients' (Ancient Cities, Ancient Pagodas and Ancient Steles) of the Dali Scenic Spot. It can be dated back to the year 1382 during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and has been among the top listed historical cities of China since 1982.With Erhai Lake to the east, and Cangshan Mountain to the west, its grand city wall, traditional Bai ethnic minority folk houses and marvelous scenery have been attracting many visitors.
According to literature, this Ancient City was a gateway to the Silk Road in Southwest China, and also served as a seat of government and a major military barracks for Yunnan Province in ancient times. It enjoyed magnificent scale, with a wall length of 6 kilometers (3.73 miles), a height of 7.5 meters (24.6 feet) and a thickness of 6 meters (19.7 feet).
There were four city gates facing west, east, north and south, upon which sat a gate tower. Four further towers were also placed at the four corners of the city wall. As it underwent many phases of prosperity as well as decline, only the city base remains till today. We can explore the mystery belonging to that period of history, especially through witnessing some parts of the city wall, the North City Wall Tower and the South City Wall Tower which were restored in 1982. The city layout was uniform, with five main streets from south to north and eight main streets from east to west, while marketplaces were neatly arranged within the city, which has remained unchanged to this date.
The traditional Bai ethnic minority folk houses give the city distinctive feel, unlike any other Chinese city. A typical house is characterized by '3 rooms and a wall screening' and '4 joints and 5 courtyards'. '3 rooms and a wall screening' means that every house has a principle room and two wing-rooms and facing the principle room stands the wall screening. When the sun shines on the wall screening in the afternoon, the sunlight is reflected back to the courtyard, thus illuminating the whole area. '4 joints and 5 courtyards' means houses are built with four sides; and four courtyards in the joining parts of the houses' corners and one big courtyard in the center makes five courtyards. The decoration is another construction feature of the folk residences, paying great attention to the gate tower, the eaves and corners. The windows, doors and the wall screening are adorned with Jianchuan woodcarvings, colored patterns, marbles and wash drawings. The delicacy, freshness and elegance of their construction may be called first-class among folk residences in Southwest China.
When people walk along the cobble-paved streets in the ancient city, a sense of primitive simplicity and elegance will be invoked. Besides the Bai ethnic minority traditional folk houses, the houses all with grey-green roof tiles, peculiar workshops, temples, schools and churches with an antique flavor are scattered. Traditional artworks made of marble, such as pencil vases, striped screens, and a variety of woven handicrafts made of fine straw are laid chockablock on both sides of the street to be appreciated and purchased. The newly¨Copened Foreigner Street is also a must-see, providing snacks with the traditional flavors of the Bai ethnic community, as well as the famous 'Three-course Tea' ceremony for receiving guests that includes 'bitter tea', 'sweet tea' and 'final tea'.
Features of Dali Ancient City
The ancient city of Dali was the capital of two ancient kingdoms. In 738AD, the Nanzhao Kingdom was founded with Dali as its capital and covered large areas of Yunnan and northern Burma. The kingdom last almost 200 years until it was overthrown by the Duan. They named their kingdom the Dali Kingdom and ruled until conquered by the Mongols in the 12th century. According to ancient literature, Dali Ancient City was a gateway to the ancient Silk Road in Southwestern China. Because of its history and wealth, Dali Ancient city was surrounded by an ancient protective wall which is over 6 kilometers in length, 7.5 meters high and 6 meters thick. Due to centuries of erosion, and conflict, only the base of the city wall can be seen today. In 1982, the northern and southern city wall towers were rebuilt to offer visitors a glimpse into the ancient wall¡¯s grandeur.
The architecture of Dali Ancient City is built in the traditional Bai ethnic minority style and gives the city a very distinct feel. Each house has a main room and two wing rooms and facing the main room is a large screen. In the afternoon, when the sun shines on the screen, its light is reflected back into the courtyard keeping the area lit well into the evening. Special attention is paid to each house's main gate tower and the building's windows, and doors. The gate tower is the symbol of the home, and it is covered with carvings that represent the house's owner's status, religion, and occupation.
Dali Ancient City is well known for its traditional arts and crafts. It is particularly famous for its marble and hand woven handicrafts. The marble from Dali is used in construction and decorative objects. Dali is so famous for its marble, that the Chinese name for marble is literally Dali Stone. Many unique items can be found along the streets by the artisans who created them. The new"Foreigner"Street is filled with shops selling traditional Bai ethnic snacks and the famous Three Course Tea ceremony. The ceremony is used for receiving guests and includes three courses of teas. The first course is very bitter, the second is sweet, and the third is normal tea.
Located 1 kilometer northwest of Dali Ancient City at the base of Cangshan Mountain, is three ancient pagodas. With a history of over 1,800 years, the three Tang Dynasty (618-907) pagodas were built forming a symmetrical triangle, which is unique in China. These three beautiful pagodas should not be missed by visitors to Dali Ancient town.
Visitors walking along the cobble-stone streets of the ancient city will be impressed by the cit's elegance and simplicity. It is a beautiful place that is unique because of its Bai ethnic cultural aspects.