The Ancient City of Ping Yao

By: renmenbi

During the Ming and Qing dynasties Ping Yao, in the center of Shanxi province, was the financial capital of China. Today the city's ancient architecture is in very good condition and it retains much the same appearance it had hundreds of years ago. Nor will its celebrated appearance change; Ping Yao is a wholly protected city.

The three most important sites in Ping Yao are the city wall, Zhenggua Temple and Double Forest Temple. The city wall is 64 kilometres long, 12 meters high and 3-6 meters wide across the top. It has 72 watchtowers and 3000 external battlements, representing 72 people of great wisdom and 3000 disciples of Confucius. From above the wall resembles a tortoise. The tortoise is an ancient symbol of longevity, and it was thought that having a wall of this shape would make the city eternally secure.

On the south section of the wall there's a Confucian temple that was once also a school. Potential officials would study there before taking the rigorous bureaucratic exams.

A major part of the buildings in Ping Yao are traditional courtyard dwellings, some occupied by the same families that have lived there for hundreds of years. Some of the larger courtyard mansions, once the homes of rich silk merchants or baners, have been converted into guest houses. Called Si He Yun, these guesthouses attract thousands of tourists each year.

The buildings in Ping Yao are famous for their vaulted ceilings. Designed to keep rooms cool in summer and warm in winter, this ceiling architectural feature is unique to northwest China. In addition, the doors and windows of Ping Yao's buildings are elaborately carved.

Cheng Huan Miao temple stands in the east of the city. Here, the local deity is enshrined and worshipped. According to legend the temple entrance was made especially low so that devotees would have to bow while entering.

There are three other important shrines in the city, each dedicated to one of the gods of fortune - Wu When, and Zhen Cai Shen, who brought fortune to business, academia and life in general respectively. These temples are important today not just for their religious aspects, but also because they are decorated with beautiful Qing era murals. Some of these murals are descriptions of hell, graphic representations of punishments doled out in the afterlife for sins commited in this life.

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