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Discovering Suzhou’s top five historical monasteries and temples

Discovering Suzhou’s top five historical monasteries and temples

From active monasteries to ancient remains, Suzhou is home to a colorful collection of China’s most cherished temples. Whether visitors are on a religious pilgrimage or just interested in seeing some of the oldest examples of Buddhist architecture and culture, beloved landmarks such as Tiger Hill, Guanqian Street, Hanshan Temple and more are hidden gems that need to be on a visitor’s travel itinerary.

1. At the summit of Tiger Hill stands the oldest pagoda in Suzhou, Yunyan Pagoda. Also called Huqiu Tower, this thousand-year-old, eight-sided stone temple rises seven stories high and has become the unofficial symbol of Suzhou. Be among the thousands that flock to see the temple’s notorious tilt — almost as drastic as Italy’s Leaning Tower of Pisa.

2. Located along bustling Guanqian Street, Xuanmiao Temple, or Temple of Mystery, is believed to be Suzhou’s only surviving example of Song dynasty architecture and now functions as the city’s premier Taoist temple. Crowned by dramatic eaves, Three Purities Hall (the temple’s main attraction) boasts a collection of colossal pillars delicately inlaid with Taoist deities. Considered the epicenter for Taoist music in Suzhou, visitors are often lured in by the temple monks’ entrancing melodies.

3. Dubbed one of the ten great temples in China, Hanshan Temple, or Cold Mountain Temple, has a history of more than 1,500 years and is famed for its bell-ringing ceremony on New Year’s Eve, as well as its inclusion in the poem “Mooring for the Night at Fengqiao Bridge”, see the poem inscribed on a stone tablet near Maple Bridge. Also among the temple’s top attractions are its Grand Prayer Hall, Sutra Library and one of the city’s best outlooks, Puming Pagoda.

4. At nearly 2.5 acres, Xiyuan Temple is the largest Buddhist monastery in Suzhou. Also called West Garden Temple, the 700-year-old masterpiece exhibits a flawless balance of architecture, sculpture and gardens. The temple’s yellow walls and curled eaves lead visitors to Arhat Hall’s collection of 500 life-sized statues of gilded Buddhist saints. Within its flourishing garden, find the peaceful Life-Releasing Pond. It is believed that for the last 300 years, the pool’s primary residents — turtles — have been released from captivity and now live amongst the temple’s ancient trees and fragrant flora.

5. Dating back 1,700 years and measuring in at nearly 250 feet tall (76 meters), Suzhou’s North Temple Pagoda — also known as Beisi Pagoda or Gratitude-Paying Temple — is the oldest and tallest pagoda south of the Yangtze River. Sometimes shrouded in mist, the nine-story pagoda dominates the skyline with its octagonal frame and mesmerizing brick-and-wooden façade. On a clear day, climb the spiral staircase to the top for sweeping views of Suzhou and beyond.