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Shichahai 什刹海

Shichahai is a famous scenic area that includes three lakes (Qian Hai, meaning Front Sea; Hou Hai, meaning Back Sea and Xi Hai, meaning Western Sea), surrounding places of historic interest and scenic beauty, and remnants of old-style Beijing residences, Hutong and Courtyard. It is located in the northwest part of Beijing, and covers a large area of 146.7 hectares (about 363 acres).

The history of Shichahai can be traced to as far back as the Jin Dynasty (1115 - 1234). During the Yuan Dynasty (1271 - 1368), it was the terminal point of the Great Canal, which was a main reason for its prosperity. In the period of the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644), when the channels ceased to be as smooth as they used to be, Shichahai changed from a bustling hub to a place of leisure where people could stroll around to admire the vast scenery or enjoy the cool shade under williow trees.

When you walk around Shichahai, a sense of its history inevitably hits you. Composed of three man-made lakes, Qianhai ("Front Sea" Lake), Houhai ("Rear Sea" Lake) and the lesser-known Xihai ("West Sea" Lake) once formed part of a system of waterways that fed into the Imperial Capital. For centuries wooden boats carrying produce from the south would make the journey up the Grand Canal and enter the city via these waterways. Those days are long gone. After a period of decline, the lakes, are now a prime recreational destination. With overhanging willows lining its banks and cafébars tucked away in its many secluded corners, it is also a delightful area to relax over a drink while watching life on and off the water.

At the south end of Qianhai Lake and opposite the North Gate of neighboring Beihai Park's North Gate is a recently renovated square where flowers in full bloom serve as the perfect background to stunning rock sculptures. The square is popular with locals who come here to exercise, fly kites, play cards or even have their hair cut. Curios are also on sale while pedicab drivers chat as they wait for passengers wanting to be carried around the neighboring hutongs. This is almost a scene out of a movie set in "Old Beijing".

     As the paved track winds around the eastern side of the lake it passes a dock lined with motorized pleasure boats. On the other side, the floating Romance Bar provides dinner on the lake to the accompaniment of traditional string instruments. Hidden behind some trees to the right are several fine new restaurants while offshore a small island with its round pavilion has been transformed into a secluded bar.

       Looking down across Qianhai our eyes are drawn to the magnificent Drum (Gulou) and Bell (Zhonglou) Towers which functioned as important timepieces of the Imperial Capital from as early as the 15th century. Just below the two towers, the far shore is lined with traditional grey-tiled low buildings-former homes of officials whose daily lives revolved around the bell chimes.

Shichahai is always a good place for local Beijingers' recreational life, and in the last 200 years, many governmental officers, celebrities, monks and nuns chose to build mansions, temples and nunneries in Shichahai. Thus, Shichahai's attraction lies not only in its natural beauty, but also in the historical value of its architecture. The most famous ones among these historical buildings are Gong Wang Fu (Prince Gong's Mansion, Chun Wang Fu (Price Chun's Mansion), the Former Residence of Song Qing Ling, the Former Residence of Mei Lan Fang (the well-known Peking Opera master) and Guang Hua Temple.

The greatest point of interest in Shichahai today is its residences, Hutong and Courtyard. In and around Beijing City, Shichahai is one of the best places to view well-preserved Hutongs and courtyards. Visiting Hutongs by pedicab has become a popular activity for visitors from China and abroad. The most famous Hutong is Jin Si Tao, which actually includes 18 hutongs and keeps the original layout of Hutong Area. Another one is Yan Dai Xie Jie, meaning an oblique street which looks like a long-stemmed pipe. This street used to be a famous street selling long-stemmed pipes.

People can also find two Old Brands in Shichahai. One is Kao Rou Ji, a restaurant selling roast meat, which has a history of over 150 years. The other is Bao Du Zhang, which has sold cooked tripe of sheep for four generations.

Decorated in traditional Chinese style, the courtyard is host to more than 10 Beijing-style snack shops, including the famous Yueshengzhai, Baodu Feng and Nailao Wei. Months since first being removed from their original shops in the city's Qianmen area, these time-honored brands have finally re-opened their businesses, satisfying diners' with an appetite for a bit of the authentic Beijing flavor.

By visiting Shichahai, visitors will get an authentic taste of the style and features of Old Beijing.

Shichahai Hutong Walking Tour Map (Click to enlarge)

Shichahai Nearby Famous Hutong Names:

Shichahai Nearby Famous Courtyards Names:

  • Prince Gong's Mansion  World's Largest Courtyard House. The former imperial residence and landscaped gardens are thought to be the setting for the one of Chinese four great classical novels,  Dream of the Red Mansions.
  • Former Residence of Guo Moruo This historical courtyard was where Chinese writer Guo Moruo (1892-1978) live his last 15 years. Guo was also an influential poet and historian of his time. One of his most famous works is Goddess.
  • Former Residence of Soong Chingling now a museum for Song Qing-ling (1892-1981), wife of Sun Yat-sen, the founder of the Republic of China. The gardens surrounding the house are beautiful.

        Beijing's Hutongs
    

Suggested visting routes:

  1. Sichahai Lake——Silver Ingot Bridge ( Yinding Bridge )——Hutong visting——Courtyards visiting
    Time: one hour
  2. Drum Tower Visiting——Silver Ingot Bridge ( Yinding Bridge )——Sichahai Lake——Hutong visting——Courtyards visiting
    Time: 1.5 to 2 hours
  3. Drum Tower Visiting——Silver Ingot Bridge ( Yinding Bridge )——Sichahai Lake——Hutong visting——Courtyards visiting——Mansion of Prince Gong
    Time: 2.5 to 3 hours

suggestions:

  1. You can take organized rickshaw tours of the Hutong & Courtyards.
    Fees for each richshaw: from CNY60 to CNY250/ (depending on the route you choose)
    Booking telephone : (86-10) 6433-4033
    (86-13) 8010-51196   
    Note: call three hours ahead of time
  2. If you have enough time, it can be more fun to explore them by yourself. Stroll through the meandering Hutong and experience the colorful and leisure life of those residents is great fun.
  3. Choose one hotel (converted from Courtoyards) in the Hutong areas where you can escape from the busy and noisy modern world.
     Suggested place: Hutong Courtyard B&B
    Address: No.28 Maoer Hutong, Beijing China

 
 
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