Why Visit Pingyao Ancient City?
● A long history of over 2,700 years
Pingyao Ancient City was founded in Western Zhou Dynasty in 8th century BC, and got extension in Ming and Qing Dynasties. Up to now, it has survived from wars and modernization, being an older well-preserved ancient city in China than Lijiang Old Town, Huizhou Ancient City and Langzhong Ancient City, three other top ancient cities in China.
● The Most Complete Ancient County-level City in China & An Excellent Example of Han Chinese City of Ming & Qing Dynasties
Pingyao has been the seat of county government since Qin Dynasty (221 BC). In 1370, the city wall was rebuilt and expanded, packed with bricks. Many watch towers, gate towers were added during its reconstruction period followed. Except the 6 barbicans, 4 turrets and 72 watch towers and former defensive settings on the ancient city wall, there are over 400 ancient residential houses located along the criss-crossed streets and lanes, famous ancient government office, former bank, shops, escort agencies, temples retained inside. The whole complex seems travel through time and space, unfolding a living scene of traditional daily life, commerce and religion vividly.
● A Treasure House of Ancient Chinese Dwellings
Ancient city walls and financial institutions are only a small part of the architecture legacy of Pingyao Ancient City. Its overall settlement, architecture style, construction skills, materials, design, decorations of the ancient residences are the historical and cultural heritage that will really shock you when seeing.
Layout and Architecture Structure of Pingyao Ancient City
Built completely in accordance with traditional urban planning style and layout principle of cities of the Chinese Han nationality, Pingyao Ancient City keeps the basic layout which reflects the popular urban planning concept during the Ming and Qing Dynasties.
Circled by the ancient city wall, Pingyao Ancient City lies like a slightly tilted square. When seen from a bird's eye perspective with some imagination, it is more like a turtle. The Southern Gate is like the head, Northern Gate is the tail and the two wells outside the Southern Gate are the eyes, gates in the east and west are the symbols of its limbs. The interlaced network of avenues, roads and lanes presents the complicated lines on turtle shell.
Inside the city walls, the street pattern is a shape of “ 土” and the architectural layout is followed by Chinese Eight Diagrams. All keep the style of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Four avenues, eight streets and seventy-two lanes interweave with one another. They have clear functions and good-ordered layouts.
The residences are all Siheyuan (quadrangle courtyard) made of black bricks and layered grey tiles in clear axes and bilateral symmetry, most decorated with exquisite wood carvings, brick carvings and exquisite paintings. Besides, there are some temples and rows upon rows of ancient shops on both sides of the streets.
Top Highlights to See in Pingyao Ancient City
Ancient City Wall of Pingyao 平遥古城墙
Remoulded in 1370 during early Ming Dynasty, the ancient city walls with a circumference of 6,163 meters are still largely intact and considered among the best-preserved ancient city walls in China. With 12 meters high and 3-6 meters wide on top, the city walls have six barbican gates. The north and south sides have one gate each, and the east and west sides have two gates each, making Pingyao ancient city like a still turtle. There are 3000 embattlements and 72 watch towers on the walls which is said to symbolize the 3000 disciples of Confucius and his 72 saints. That perfectly testifies the far-reaching influence of Chinese Confucianism. Get up onto the walls, you can see many interesting military equipment and enjoy a great perspective of the whole ancient city, and external moat and farmlands.
Rishengchang Former Bank 日昇昌票号
Rishengchang Former Bank or Rishengchang Draft Bank is the first modern bank in China, which prompted national financial circulation and development industry and commerce in Qing Dynasty. It created Wall Street business nearly 200 years ago, verifying the great fortune and flourishing economy of Pingyao at that time. In 1823, the intelligent shopkeep Lei Lvtai and rich merchant Li Daquan co-founded Rishengchang Draft Bank at the West Avenue, to ease the issue of capital flow. Monies (cashes) were sent by escorts, which took lots of time and robbery happened frequently. As the first private financial institution managing deposit, loan and agiotage, Rishengrang soon became the economic lifeline in 19 century of Qing dynasty by rigorous operation system. It even established more than 30 branched nationwide, extended business to Japan, Singapore and Russia in 1940s in its heyday. The history of Rishengchang lasts over 100 years, but its occurrence and development provides valuable reference materials.
Today, Rishengchang Former Back has been renovated into a museum of over 20 exhibition halls. In the three courtyards, old math tools, account books, currency, bank operation system, original living and working scenes are displayed for tourists to learn about China’s banking history.
Ming and Qing Dynasties Street 明清一条街
Stretching on the central axis of Pingyao Ancient City for over 400 meters, the Ming & Qing Dynasties Street, also called South Street, is the most important and prosperous commercial street in the ancient city. This landmark street is lined with 78 ancient shops, covering nearly all sectors of commerce, such as bank, pawnshop, pharmacy, butcher, smoke shop, grocery store, silk and stain shop, etc. All are historical witnesses of the thriving economy of the Ancient City of Pingyao. See it you can quickly understand why it was the important financial and trade center from the 19th century to the early 20th century. Now, the street is one must-see cultural and historical spot, giving tourists a great chance to discover antique charm of Ming and Qing Dynasty, taste local snacks and find local handicrafts.
Temple of the City God 城隍庙
Built in early Ming Dynasty, Pingyao’s Temple of the City God is one of the well-preserved such temples in China. Lying in the east of the ancient city and facing the Government Office, the temple is a quite building complex with splendid wooden architectures and brick carvings around. It consists of memorial archway, temples of different gods, theater stage, praying hall, principal hall and sleeping palace in the two linked courtyards. Except the co-worship of three gods, the delicate buildings with colored glazes are the main highlights of the temple. When you view the colored tile on the roof and the vivid statuary in the halls and frescoes on the walls, don’t forget to enjoy the peaceful atmosphere here.
Pingyao Ancient Government Office 古县衙
Located in the center of Pingyao ancient city, the Government Office was built in North Wei Dynasty and formed its current scale in Ming and Qing dynasties. With a history of over 600 years, it was the administration location in Feudal China, like today’s court to justice and upholding the public’s trust. There are kinds of cruel torture and ancient jails displayed for tourists to know the process of trial. And it’s a fun to watch how the governor to settle a lawsuit in the ancient way, performed by real persons. Divided into three parts, the huge office has judicial hall, screen wall, archway, living quarters and other functional zones. According to its architectural layout and function settings, it is truly a microcosm of a royal palace.
North China First Escort Agency 华北第一镖局
As a special delivery business in ancient China, escort agency developed to its peak in Qing dynasty with the frequent logistics needed to protect. The North China First Escort Agency, a great escort agency in Qing dynasty, was established by three outstanding armed escorts, who are Wang Zhengqin and Zuo Erba, Dai Erlv. With the trend of exchange service of Rishangchang Draft Bank, escort agencyies were perished gradually.
Now it has been changed to a museum, mainly telling the story of these three escorts and the escort agency history in Qing dynasty. In the front yard, there are some essential escorting stuffs displayed, including the flag (the logo), vehicles, containers, weapons, etc. And there is field for practicing martial arts for tourists to have more knowledge about the ancient escort agency.
Featured Activities to Experience in Pingyao Ancient City
1. Pingyao’s Chinese New Year Festival
Date: usually from December 23th to next January 23rd in China's lunar calendar
Pingyao Chinese New Year Festival, held since 2000, is one of the grandest festivals in Pingyao and a great way to get close to local culture and customs. It is the liveliest time that various kinds of special local activities can be experienced, such as red lantern hanging, spring couplets writing, firecrackers setting off, lion dance, stilt shows, Yangko dance, etc. It’s widely recognized as the best place to feel Chinese New Year culture in Northern China.
Tips: In normal days, there are some public folk shows held in major sites, such as Ancient Government Office and Ming and Qing Dynasties Street, where you can see people wearing ancient costumes and performing. They are free of charge and performed at fixed times.
2. Pingyao International Photography Festival (PIP)
Date: late September each year
Started in 2001, the Pingyao International Photography Festival has been an international event attracting photographers from USA, Germany, and Australia and more counties across the world to share their special perspectives of Pingyao through their lens. If you love photography, don’t miss this festival when traveling during the time.
3. Encore Pingyao - Large Indoor Performance
Show Time Begins at: 14:00, 16:00, 19:00, 21:00 (except for Mondays)
Location: No 154, Shuncheng Road, South of Lizeyuan International Hotel, near West Gate of Pingyao Ancient City Wall, Pingyao County, Jinzhong City, Shanxi Province
Ticket: CNY 238
As the first Encore Series performance in northern China, Encore Pingyao is a large-scale indoor melodrama praising the ethical tradition and moral spirit of Pingyao people. The show makes Pingyao Ancient City as the background and telling the sections in maze-like stage. In the 90-minute performance, a simple story is told, in late Qing Dynasty, the boss of Pingyao Draft Bank spent all his property to rescue a child of a shop keep of his branch bank in tsarist Russian. The boss and 232 armed escorts were all dead but managed to continue the bloodline of his staff.
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Pingyao Ancient City Location and Transportation
Pingyao Ancient City Location
Being one of the top must-see UNESCO World Cultural Heritages, Pingyao Ancient City is located in northwest Pingyao County, Jinzhong City, Shanxi Province. It is about 100 km from Taiyuan, almost 2 hours’ driving; about 400 km from Datong, nearly 5 hours’ by car; about 300 km away from Wutaishan for 4 hours’ driving journey.
- 10 km from Pingyao Ancient City Railway Station, about 20 ~ 30 minutes by car;
- 1 km close to Pingyao Railway Station, about 15-20 minutes’ walking;
- 6 km away from Shuanglin Temple, about 20 minutes’ by car;
- 13 km away from Zhenguo Temple, about 25 minutes’ by car;
- 40 km away from Qiao’s Family Compound, about 1 hour’s driving;
- 55 km away from Wang’s Family Compound, about 1.5 hours’ by car.
How to Get to Pingyao Ancient City
By Train: Pingyao has two main train stations for arrival. Tourists can either take a high speed train to Pingyao Ancient City Railway Station from Beijing (4 hours), Datong (3-3.5 hours), Taiyuan (30 minutes), Xian (2.5-3 hours), etc., or get to Pingyao Railway Station by normal train from cities in Shanxi Province. After arrival, you need extra transfer to Pingyao Ancient City for sightseeing or to your hotel near the scenic area.
By Flight: There is no airport in Pingyao and the nearest airport for air travelers is the Taiyuan Wusu International Airport in the north. The airport is situated nearly 200 km of Pingyao Ancient City, which takes approximately 2 hours’ ride. If you drive from Taiyuan to Pingyao, you can rightly visit Qiao’s Family Compound on the way.
Travel Pingyao Ancient City with nearby Attractions
The UNESCO World Cultural Heritage of Ancient City of Pingyao includes three properties: Pingyao Ancient City, Shuanglin Temple and Zhenguo Temple nearby. All three sites are great treasures worthy your exploration.
Shuanglin Temple (6 km from Pingyao Ancient City)
Extolled as the “Oriental Treasure-house of Painted Sculptures” Shuanglin Temple is castle-style architecture with over 2000 painted sculptures and the highest is about 3 meters, while the lowest is for 30 centimeters. In the 10 halls, you can see many magnificent painted sculptures of four guardian warriors, Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Eighteen Arhats and large area of murals about the Sakyamuni’s birth to his enlightenment. All of the works are very delicate and well-preserved, especially the Thousand-hand Avalokitesvara and Dharmapala Weituo. Visiting Shuanglin Temple helps you know more about Buddhism and painted sculpture - one of the most archaic folk art in China.
Popular Pingyao Tours with Shuanglin Temple:
Zhenguo Temple (13 km from Pingyao Ancient City)
Built in 963 and reconstructed in 1816, Zhenguo Temple is a temple of over one thousand years of history, which most notable for its ingenious mortise and tenon joint structure by wood. It has the two parts, the front and back courtyards which different halls. After seeing the Heaven Kings Hall, you can walk to Wanfo Hall to observe the giant and complicated eaves built in Tang Dynasty feature which are seen like outspread wings. In Three Buddhas Tower in back courtyard, massive murals are displayed on the walls showing the lifetime of Sakyamuni. Also, don’t miss the elegant statue of Svalokitesvara and other Buddha sculptures.
Ticket: CNY 35 (Shuanglin Temple); CNY 25 (Zhenguo Temple)
Pingyao Ancient City Travel Tips
1. About Ticket. You can enter Pingyao Ancient City without a ticket, but if you want to visit scenic spots inside, like Rishengchang Former Bank, Ancient City Wall, Ancient Government Office, you need to buy tickets. The best idea is get a Through Ticket which allows you tour all 22 scenic spots inside Pingyao Ancient City. The ticket is valid for 3 days, but you can only visit each spot once.
2. Tourist Shuttle Bus. In Pingyao Ancient City, there are many historical sites along the way for you to travel at least one day. Taking a tourist bus, you can enjoy a comfortable tour and focus on major ancient site. You can pay for the electric cars or rent a bike to cyle around leisurely. No cars are allowed in the ancient city.
3. Where to Live. In Pingyao ancient city, there are many residential hotels of local features, like the 5-star Yunjincheng Hostel and Tianyuankui Guesthouse which are ocated in Ming and Qing Dynasties Street. Also, nearby the city walls, there are many courtyard-styled hostels with cheap price.
How to Plan Your Pingyao Ancient City Tour
Best time to visit Pingyao: March to mid-June, mid-September to November, and Chinese Spring Festival Time (Jan or Feb)
Where to Stay: Mainly in Pingyao Ancient City
Travelers usually take 1 full day to visit major scenic spots in Pingyao. After entry, first start from the Ancient City Wall, get a panorama view of the internal and external and obvious contrast of ancient and modern city landscape. Then, move to Rishengchang Former Bank to learn how the wide ancients national wide financial system and created the first modern bank in China. Next, go to Ming and Qing Dynasties Street to image previous commercial boom and observe current local life. Later, visit Temple of the City God to admire wonderful architectures, carvings in the old temple.
Interested in Buddhism culture and Chinese folk art? Take 1 more day to explore fantastic painted sculptures in Shuanglin Temple and Zhenguo Temple. If time allows, you may make an in-depth culture discovery around Pingyao, visit Wang’ Family Compound and Zhangbi Ancient Castle.
Shanxi is great tourist regions rich in different kinds of attractions, including culture and nature both. After your Pingyao Ancient City tour, you may extend trip further to Datong, Wutaishan and Hukou Waterfall in Shanxi, or arrange a longer China tour with Beijing, Xian, Shanghai and other top destinations. You can select from our popular Pingyao tours, or let us customize a special trip based on your requirements.
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We have helped many global travelers enjoy their memorable wonderful trips to Shanxi for the past few years. Among them, a sweet couple from the UK traveled with us and spent 21 Happy Days in Datong, Pingyao, Mount Wutai, Xi'an and 5 Other Cities in Northern China, and shared us their special travel story!
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