Dali Ancient Town, also known as Yu Town, lies at the foot of Cangshan Mountain in the west and faces Erhai Lake in the east.

大理古城 The Ancient Town of Dali

The Ancient Town of Dali, at the foot of Cangshan Mountain, is a National Historical and Cultural City. It has been existing for 1000 years, having been the capital of the Nanzhao Kingdom in Tang Dynasty and the Dali Kingdom in Song Dynasty. Dali with a long history and splendid culture has enjoyed the fame of “the famous literary town”. There are some important relics such as Three Pagodas, the ruins of Taihe City and Nanzhao Stele, etc. In the ancient town the simple, unsophisticated and quiet residential houses of the Bai People can be found everywhere. “Foreigners’ Street” gains considerable fame from abroad and home.

Dali old town is located 13 kilometers from Xiaguan with Taihe Village in between with imposing gate towers and beautiful scenery. It was initially built in 1382 during the Ming Dynasty. According to historical documents, the town had great dimensions, extending for 12 kilometers. The wall was 2.5 zhang (roughly 8 meters) tall, and 2 zhang (roughly 7 meters) thick; gate towers in the east, west, south, and north were called Tonghai, Cangshan, Chengen, and Anyuan respectively. Watchtowers at the corners of the city wall were named Yingchuan, Xiping, Kongming, and Changqing respectively.

This town had a chessboard layout with five streets from south to north and eight lanes from east to west. At present, most of these structures are extinct, and some are faintly visible. The existing wall is a part from south to north, and the South Gate Tower was rebuilt in 1982. The word “Dali” at the top of the gate was inscribed by Guo Moruo, an eminent Chinese scholar.

Dali Ancient Town is one of the first batch of 24 historical and cultural cities approved by the State Council in February 1982, and also one of the key 44 scenic areas nationwide. There are many important cultural relics, including ancient towns, pagodas, and tablets with 4 under national protection, and 19 under provincial protection. Ancient towns refer to Taihe Town, Yangjumie Town, Dali Town (the present Xizhou), Longwei Town (the present Xiaguan), and Dali Town. Ancient pagodas are Three Pagodas of Chongsheng Monastery, the Mono Pagoda of Hongsheng Temple, the Python Skeleton Pagoda, and the Fish Bone Pagoda.

Tablets include Ancient Nanzhao Stele, Tablet in Memory of the Conquest of Yunnan by the First Emperor of the Yuan Dynasty, tablet clusters of Wuhua Tower, and Shanhua Tablet. Besides, long history has cultivated many famous people: Pi Luoge, the fourth king of Nanzhao Kingdom, Ge Luofeng, the fifth, and Feng Jiayi, the sixth; Zhenghui, a Prime Minster; Duan Siping, the first king of Dali Kingdom; Zhang Shengwen, a painter; Yang Fu, Yang Shiyun, and Li Yuanyang, men of letters; Li Xieyi and Zhang Yaozeng, revolutionaries in modern times; Yang Jie, a military theoretician; Zhou Baozhong, leader of the Northeast United Army against Japanese Invasion.

Dali old town gate

Major tourist attractions around the Ancient Dali Town include the Cangshan Mountain, Jade Belt Clouds, and Husband Expecting Cloud to the west; the Erhai Lake and the Jizu Mountain to the east; Three Pagodas of Chongsheng Monastery, Relics of Yangjumie Town (the capital of Nanzhao Kingdom), and the Third Month Fair to the northwest; the Mono Pagoda of Hongsheng Temple, the Gantong Temple, the Nanzhao Stele, and newly-built Nanzhao Cultural Town to the south; the Butterfly Spring Park, and Xizhou (the mostly Bai town) to the north. In the town, tourists can visit the “Forbidden City” (the headquarters of Du Wenxiu, leader of the Muslim Revolt), the Yu’er Park, the Yang’s Garden, the Foreigners’ Street, and Xiyun Academy of Classic Learning (the present Dali No. 1 Middle School). This academy, built from 1873 to 1875, used to be a private mansion of Yang Yuke, Commander-in-chief of Yunnan Province. This magnificent Bai’s structure had hundreds of rooms. Xiyun Tablet, with five hundred words, was inscribed by Yang Yuke, which is of historical value to the study of the Muslim Revolt and the history of Dali in the Qing Dynasty.

The Foreigners’ Street

The Foreigners’ Street is in the upper part of Hugu Road with a length of 185.6 meters. In the 1980s, most of the overseas visitors stayed at Dali Second Hotel (the present Red Camellia Hotel). Later on, cafes, bars, shops, bike rental services, photo studios have been opened in the area. In the evening, people from all parts of the world enjoy themselves here in twos or threes, chatting and relaxing. Besides, garden tea houses, local snacks, and restaurants with foreign flavors are also popular.

The ancient town

Dali Ancient Town is a quiet and simple place in contrast to the hustle and bustle of Xiaguan City. The main street from south to north is paved with slab stones. Residential houses, shop houses, and workshops in old style link each other on both sides. The town is pleasant with antique atmosphere, fresh air, and warm climate. A typical Bai people’s house is either a compound with rooms on three sides and a screen wall or a quadrangle with five yards. The former has one main room, two wing rooms, and a screen wall. The screen wall makes the whole compound bright even in the late afternoon by reflecting the sunlight.

In Xiaguan, a windy city, the main room usually faces east to keep away the westerly wind. People in Dali love flowers. Such famous flowers as camellias, azaleas, and orchids are grown in every household. At the Flower Festival in the 2nd lunar calendar, pots of flowers are presented in front of each house to form a flowery lane. Creeks from the Cangshan Mountain flow through the streets and lanes around the city into the Erhai Lake in the east. So visitors will enjoy beautiful blooms and clear creeks here and there in the town.

The main street is flanked by a myriad of marble stores offering a rich variety of commodities from screens, pen holders, to vases. Marble can be found in the 19 peaks of the Cangshan Mountain. It is smooth in surface, refined in texture, and beautiful in patterns. It was put into use as early as the period of the Nanzhao Kingdom in the Tang Dynasty. Many famous Chinese statues are made of marble, such as the relief pedestal and breast boards of the Monument to the People’s Heroes, Sitting Statue of Chairman Mao in the Memorial Hall of Chairman Mao in Beijing, and Nie Er’s Statue in Kunming.

白族三道茶 Three-course tea

The three-course tea, a traditional custom of the Bai to entertain their guests on festive occasions, connotes three stages of life. The first is plain tea. Procedures are as follows: boil water, heat a small teapot on slow fire, put tea leaves into the pot, turn the pot to make tea leaves get even heat, pour boiled water into the teapot when the tea leaves turn yellow and smells caramel odor, then the tea can be served. The second, flavored with brown sugar, milk fan, walnuts, and sesame, has a sweet aroma. The third, aftertaste tea, is seasoned with honey, ginger, Chinese prickly ash, cinnamon, and walnut.
Dali Ancient Town lives up to the reputation as a “famous historical and cultural city”, and becomes a popular tourist destination for recreation, recuperation, and sightseeing.

Enter your email address to subscribe to China-underground and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Liked it? Take a second to support CinaOggi on Patreon!