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Ancient Cities in China — Invaluable Architectures, Cultures, and Histories in Picturesque Views

Here is a list of some famous ancient Chinese cities that serve as exceptional representatives of architecture, culture, aesthetics, religion, and customs.

Building complexes and city walls constructed long ago have witnessed the rises and falls of countless families throughout history, preserving unique characteristics of different regional cultures and holding great architectural and cultural values.


Ancient City of Pingyao



Pingyao, a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, is the best representative of a traditional Han county-level city since the 14th century, an exceptionally preserved ancient town with great architectural, historical, and cultural values.

After being rebuilt in 1370, Pingyao experienced its ups and downs and once was the financial center of China in the 19th and early 20th centuries. 

The city wall and building complexes of Pingyao, however, barely changed much over time, which made it an invaluable cultural site that shows the culture, society, economy, and religion of a typical Han city during the Ming (1368 — 1644) and Qing (1638 — 1912) Dynasties. 

Alias: Pingyao, Pingtao, Turtle City. 


Location: Shanxi Province, Middle-North China.


Area: 225 square kilometers, with over 4000 dwellings and shops inside the city wall. 

Tourist Attractions: 


  • City Wall of Pingyao, rebuilt in 1370, 6163 meters long and about 12 meters tall, is one of the best-preserved city walls in China.

  • Confucius Temple or Wen Miao of Pingyao, the most ancient Confucius Temple in China, whose main hall was rebuilt in the year 1163.

  • The County Government, or Xian Ya of Pingyao, is China's largest and best-preserved ancient county-level government.

  • Over 4000 dwellings and shops from the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368 — 1912).

  • Rishengchang, the first draft bank (in Chinese Piaohao) built in 1823 and other banks in the business streets of Pingyao.

  • Zhenguo Temple, whose main shrine and many sculptures date back to the Five Dynasties (907 — 960), is one of China's most ancient, valuable existing timber structure building complexes. 

  • Shuanglin Temple, known as the "Oriental Art Gallery of Painted Sculptures", has over 2000 painted sculptures of Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynasties (1271 — 1912) preserved inside.

Read More About Pingyao

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Huizhou in Anhui



Huizhou in Anhui is a well-preserved, ink-painting-style historic city that developed Huizhou Culture, one of China's most important regional cultures.


Huizhou Culture, also known as Hui Culture, encompasses various aspects, including Huizhou merchants, cuisine, architecture, villages, carving art, Xin'an Academy, philosophy (Xin'an Rationalism or Xin'an Neo-Confucianism), education, medicine, painting school, handicrafts, customs, dialects, and more.


Most of these cultural elements are preserved and showcased in the ancient city of Huizhou.

Alias: Shezhou, Xin'an. 


Location: Anhui Province, Middle China.

Tourist Attractions:


  • Ancient Hui-style dwellings in towns and villages and exquisite decorative arts like carvings. 


  • Archways or Pai Fang to praise achievement, filial piety, chastity, loyalty, righteousness, and so on.


  • Yuliang Dam, or Yuliangba, Constructed in 1229 as an important water conservancy project.


  • Historical roads were built by Huizhou merchants, for them to carry products out of the mountains.


Read More About Huizhou and Hui Culture

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Dunhuang on Silk Road



Dunhuang used to be a garrison city in the northwest of the Han Dynasty (202 BC — 220 AD), a trade city along the Silk Road, and a holy land for disseminating Buddhism. 


Therefore, Dunhuang is a city with exceptional military, historical, religious, economic, artistic, and cultural values, surrounded by the magnificent Gobi Desert and mysterious Yardang Landforms.

Alias: Shazhou, Shadu. 


Location: Gansu Province, Northwest China.

Tourist Attractions:


  • Mogao Grottoes, a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, is the biggest Buddhist artistic palace with great religious and aesthetic values. It has over 700 cave temples, 450,000 square meters of murals, and preserved 2415 statues.

  • Ancient Passes, gates, and city relics along the Silk Road were important military sites on the northwest border of the Han Empire. 

  • Mingsha Mountain or Echo Sands Mountain creates different types of hum in the endless Gobi Desert.

  • Moon Crescent Spring, or Yueya Quan, has been a magnificent scenery since the Han Dynasty (202 BC — 220 AD).

  • Dunhuang Yardang National Geopark, or Ghost City, is a magnificent natural museum consisting of a series of Yardangs of different colors and shapes and a place with mysterious sounds spread out when the wind blows.

Read More About Dunhuang

Jiuzhaigou by Zeng Yongqian.jpg




Jiuzhaigou, named after nine stockaded villages of Tibetans living in this area throughout history, is a county inhabited by many minority ethnic groups of China, including Tibetan, Qiang, Hui, etc. 


In the county is the Jiuzhaigou Valley Scenic and Historic Interest Area, a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for stunning, colorful waterscapes, diverse ecosystems, picturesque terraces, and impressive karst views.

Alias: Nanping, Yangtong. 


Location: Sichuan Province, Southwest China.

Tourist Attractions:


  • Tibetan Culture in villages of Jiuzhaigou, including architectural styles, religion, clothes, food, local festivals, activities, etc.


  • Qiang Culture of the Taoping Qiang Stockaded Village and their stone building complexes. 

  • Stunningly beautiful lakes and waterfalls, colorful forests, and magnificent snow mountains.

Read More About Jiuzhaigou

lijiang by Shi Xiongfeng




Lijiang is a city in southwest China famous for the Old Town of Lijiang and its stunning natural views, including magnificent snow mountains, lakes, and rivers.  


The Old Town of Lijiang, a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, holds significant architectural and cultural values as a perfect blend of different ethnic groups throughout history.

Location: Yunnan Province, Southwest China.


Area: 20600 square kilometers. 

Tourist Attractions: 


  • Ancient Building Complexes in Old Towns of Lijiang, Shuhe, and Baisha.

  • Mu Fu Mansion, or Mufu, was the palace of the native chieftain of Lijiang (the Mu clan) who ruled the Naxi people from 1253 to 1723. 

  • Black Dragon Pond, or Heilong Tan or Yuquan Park, was first built in 1737.

  • Yulong or Jade Dragon Snow Mountains.

  • Beautiful natural sceneries of Lugu Lake and Lashi Lake. 

Read More About the Old Town of Lijiang

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Ancient Town of Fenghuang



The Ancient Town of Fenghuang, constructed in 1556, is a well-preserved city inhabited by 28 ethnic groups of China.


Besides historical building complexes, the cultures of these different ethnic groups, including architectural styles, religion, clothes, food, festivals, activities, etc., are distinctive attractions of this city.

Alias: Fenghuang, Ancient Town of Phoenix. 


Location: Hunan Province, Middle-South of China.

Tourist Attractions: 


  • Stilted Buildings, or Diaojiaolou, of the Ancient Town of Fenghuang, and other ancient building complexes like ancestral halls, city walls, historic streets, temples, etc.


  • Tiaoyan, or Stepping Stone, is a series of stone piers placed in and connecting two sides of the Tuojiang River, which has been used as a bridge for locals.


  • Miao Culture in villages and museums includes architectural styles, religion, clothes, food, local festivals, activities, etc.

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Wuzhen Ancient Town


Wuzhen is a traditional water town of Jiangnan and a historical county, where ancient dwellings and bridges from the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368 — 1912) are surrounded by winding rivers.

Alias: Wushu, Wudun, Qingdun. 


Location: Zhejiang Province, East of China.

Area: 79 square kilometers.

Tourist Attractions:


  • Ancient dwellings, bridges, temples, and residences of famous historical figures along rivers. 


  • Exquisite architectural decorative arts, such as stone carving, wood carving, etc. 


  • Art galleries, museums, and theaters.

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