Its first Western visitor – Marco Polo arriving during this zenith – describes it as ‘the most beautiful and magnificent in the world’. Poets, politicians, and philosophers came to visit; mesmerised, they stayed for the rest of their lives. In the words of famed Song Dynasty literary master and statesman Su Dongpo, Hangzhou is ‘always alluring’.
Today, Hangzhou’s illustrious past still gleams in the reflection of its celebrated waters. The pearl that is West Lake, shrouded in legend, paints a different picture depending on where you are standing and when.
Names like Lingering Snow on Broken Bridge and Lotus in the Wind in Crooked Courtyard evoke just some of the romantic stories engraved against the lake’s numerous scenic views. The classic world-renowned dramas of The Butterfly Lovers and Madam White Snake have their beautiful origins and tragic endings here, which is why Hangzhou is also China’s capital of love.
West of West Lake sprawls Xixi wetlands, with 1800 years of history in its dense tapestry of crisscrossing waterways.
What began as an ancient lake at the southern tip of the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal, incidentally also the oldest and longest in the world, was transformed into pockets of human activity – farmers rearing fish, silkworms and seasonal agriculture, poets and artists seeking common inspiration in Plum Bamboo Manor, Buddhist monks praying in small but significant temples such as Fall Snow Temple, and annual dragon boat festivals in Deep Pond, a pool fabled to be so deep that a dragon resides within.