Riverside Romance in Central Anhui
By staff reporter LI YUAN
AMONG the numerous old towns of China, the “big three” are Wuzhen in Zhejiang Province, Zhouzhuang in Jiangsu Province and Lijiang in Yunnan Province. These towns, while undoubtedly stunning, can be overrun with tourists during high season. Luckily, China boasts a swathe of lesser-known old towns, many of which are arguably just as breathtaking as the famous few and yet remain off the radar of most tourists. Sanhe Town in Feixi County, Anhui Province is just such a town.
Geography was an important factor in enabling Sanhe Town to flourish as a melting pot of professionals and traders. Geography is in the very name of the town: Sanhe means “three rivers,” referring to the Fengle, Hangbu and Xiaonan rivers that idle their way through the town.
Sanhe Town is about 40 kilometers south of provincial capital Hefei, sitting at the junction of three counties (Feixi, Shucheng and Lujiang) and three cities (Hefei, Chaohu and Lu’an). We set out from Hefei on a misty morning in early spring. As we arrived at the old town the gate tower rose out of the fog to greet us. It’s safe to say we were mesmerized even before we’d set foot onto the town’s stone-paved alleyways.
Sanhe Town is the best-preserved riverside town in Anhui Province, boasting some of the nation's finest examples of ancient Hui style architecture.
Sanhe, established over 2,500 years ago, is the best-preserved riverside town in Anhui Province. It is a rich repository of late-Qing Dynasty history and boasts some of the nation’s best examples of ancient Hui-style architecture. Its meandering rivers, spectacular bridges, narrow alleys, elegant houses and ancient battlefields form a visage that resembles the famous painting Qingming Festival at the Riverside.
There are dozens of streets in Sanhe Town, most of which measure roughly three meters wide. The middle street paved with blue slabstones is called the “officials road.” It is flanked by walkways paved with crushed stone, called the “commoners road.”
Many years of traffic have polished the slabstone paths. They appear shiny and almost translucent after a morning’s drizzle.
The streets are lined with stores built in the Ming and Qing architectural style. The grey-tiled roofs, the white horsehead walls (named so because the white walls and tiled roof resemble a white horse and its flying mane) and the black signboards featuring gold Chinese characters make it seem one has stepped back into times past.
Our guide told us that most of the town’s residents have lived here for generations, and that the traditional layout of their houses – a shop in front and a workshop behind, has been maintained.