A journey through time: the historical significance of Fujian Tulou’s earthen houses
The earthen ‘castles of Fujian Tulou are a remarkable example of unique architecture located not far from Xiamen, surrounded by the picturesque Southern Fujian hills. The region of Yongding county is home to many of these Hakka roundhouses, which provide a glimpse into the historical significance of this architectural style.
The Fujian Tulou complex is a collection of 46 buildings constructed between the 15th and 20th centuries, spanning over 120 km in the southwest of the Fujian province, inland from the Taiwan Strait. These unique structures are set amongst rice, tea, and tobacco fields, and are constructed using earth, which is why they are also referred to as earthen houses.
The Hakka communities that spread throughout the valleys of the southern Fujian mountains and in nearby Taiwan, between the 12th and 20th centuries, gave birth to a very special architectural context. This context is reflected in the Fujian Tulou, which only recently has been included by UNESCO in the list of treasures of the heritage of humanity.
The distinctive round shape of the Hakka castles and the use of earth as a building material has resulted in a unique style that reflects the harmony between human and nature. The Tulou were built to accommodate several families, with a central courtyard, which served as a common area for daily activities.
Related: The architecture of Gulangyu, Nanputuo Temple, Xiamen, A trip to Xiamen
In fact, in the counties of Zhangzhou, Quanzhou, and especially Yongding, you can find these formidable buildings still in good condition and still inhabited.
The term Tu Lou refers to an architectural context, isolated or gathered in villages, which can reach 3.4 storeys in height, able to gather the members of an entire clan and their families, built most of the time on earth and equipped with a fragile wooden skeleton.
Some buildings, especially those of larger dimensions, were built with granite stones and brickwork walls or with a composite material called sanhetu.
The walls, built with a mix of earth and rice, are supported by a bamboo skeleton.
Hakka Walled Village: Rounded, rectangular or pentagonal. The exotic houses scattered around Southern Fujian.
Earthen Castles in Tulou images
Not far from Xiamen, about four hours by bus, surrounded by Southern Fujian hills, Yongding county hosts many Hakka roundhouses. Tulou and the nearby areas are a perfect examples of this architectural style.
Several storeys high, they are built along an inward-looking, circular or square floor plan as housing for up to 800 people each. They were built for defence purposes around a central open courtyard with only one entrance and windows to the outside only above the first floor.
Housing a whole clan, the houses functioned as village units and were known as “a little kingdom for the family” or “bustling small city.” They feature tall fortified mud walls capped by tiled roofs with wide over-hanging eaves.
The most elaborate structures date back to the 17th and 18th centuries.
The buildings were divided vertically between families, with each disposing of two or three rooms on each floor.
In contrast with their plain exterior, the inside of the tulou were built for comfort and were often highly decorated. They are inscribed as exceptional examples of a building tradition and function exemplifying a particular type of communal living and defensive organization, and, in terms of their harmonious relationship with their environment, an outstanding example of human settlement.
The Fujian Tulou are the most representative and best-preserved examples of the tulou of the mountainous regions of south-eastern China.
The large, technically sophisticated, and dramatic earthen defensive buildings, built between the 13th and 20th centuries, in their highly sensitive setting in fertile mountain valleys, are an extraordinary reflection of a communal response to a settlement that has persisted over time.
The tulou, and their extensive associated documentary archives, reflect the emergence, innovation, and development of outstanding art of earthen building over seven centuries.
The elaborate compartmentalized interiors, some with highly decorated surfaces, met both their communities’ physical and spiritual needs and reflect in an extraordinary way the development of a sophisticated society in a remote and potentially hostile environment.
The relationship of the massive buildings to their landscape embodies both Feng Shui principles and ideas of landscape beauty and harmony.
The tulou bear exceptional testimony to a long-standing cultural tradition of defensive buildings for communal living that reflect sophisticated building traditions and ideas of harmony and collaboration, well documented over time.
The tulou are exceptional in terms of size, building traditions and function, and reflect society’s response to various stages in economic and social history within the wider region.
The tulou as a whole and the nominated Fujian tulou in particular, in terms of their form, are a unique reflection of communal living and defensive needs, and in terms of their harmonious relationship with their environment, an outstanding example of human settlement.
The authenticity of the tulou is related to sustaining the tulou themselves and their building traditions as well as the structures and processes associated with their farmed and forested landscape setting. The integrity of the tulou is related to their intactness as buildings but also to the intactness of the surrounding farmed and forested landscape – into which they were so carefully sited in accordance with Feng Shui principles.
Hakka Walled Village – Beautiful Hakka Roundhouses
Text Source: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1113/
Photos: china-underground.com – Matteo Damiani
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