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When Zhu Yuanzhang founded the Ming Dynasty in 1368, he set about rebuilding a war-torn Nanjing in his personal image, one of safety and refinement. The walls surrounding the new city were integral to his image. Nanjing's city walls are distinct from the city walls in ancient capital cities such as Xi'an and Beijing in that they conform to an irregular landscape, rolling over hills and into valleys, for a total of 33 kilometers (20 miles), as opposed to maintaining the symbolic order of a square. It took 200,000 laborers 21 years to move the earth, make the bricks and build the wall. Today, two thirds of the original remain. Experts say that the bricks were mixed with glutinous rice and tung oil (a drying agent), which made them particularly strong, that is one of the reasons the ancient fortification remains standing today.
With literally thousands of years of records, the Nanjing Museum is the place to come to swallow a bite-sized amount of historical information or gorge yourself on the expansive selection. Exhibits in Chinese and English span from neolithic times down to the Republican era. Maps, artwork, even a Han-era jade burial suit are among the exhibits. Travelers agree that the Nanjing Museum gives an appreciable overview to Chinese history, culture and art. Repeat visits always reveal something worthwhile.
The list of activities in the Wutaishan Recreation Park is so long, it is almost easier to think up amenities they do not have. More than a popular stadium, Wutaishan is the place to go in Nanjing for most sports and activities. From a driving range for golf fans to basketball courts and yoga classes, Wutaishan has something for everybody. Indoor tennis, an underground pool hall and informal dance classes can also be found here. If you feel cooped up or it is the first day after the rainy season, the gardens around Wutaishan make excellent walking as well. The Paulaner Brauhaus and Shishang Yunnan Restaurant are just two of the restaurants and cafes that take advantage of the area's outdoor beauty.
Visitors who have been to Beijing will be familiar with the stone animals that stand guard along the path to the tomb of Zhu Yuanzang. The original inspiration lies here in Zijin Shan at the tomb of the Ming Dynasty's first emperor Zhu Yuanzhang. The tomb covers nearly 1214 hectacres (3000 acres) and includes several notable structures, arranged to reflect the Ursa Major constellation, including the Archway for Dismounting, the Stele of Great Merits and the extravagant Walkway of Stone Animals. At the very back of the grounds lies Baocheng (Precious Hall) where the remains of the emperor are interred.
This massive compound was originally the estate of a noble family during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The white walls and gray flying eaves of the create an elaborate symmetry that makes this one of the most photographed spots in Nanjing. Each courtyard area of the compound is dedicated to a different time period or different aspect of Chinese life and includes deliciously colorful exhibits of Kunqu and Peking opera costumes, the finery of a traditional wedding and much more. Puppet shows are performed every day at 10:30a and 2:30p.
This Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) era garden is one of the most famous Chinese gardens in South China. The elaborate walkways, bridges and halls preserve an opulence distinct to Ming- and Qing-era China. Peaceful pools center in unusual rockeries to be viewed from distinct pavilions. This garden's highlights vary with the seasons, so it is a year-round attraction. However in the fall the unusually bright yellows and oranges of the foliage will stand out in memory and photographs.
One of the best known landmarks in Nanjing, the Confucius Temple dates back to 1034 and the Song Dynasty. Venerating the great philosopher Confucius, whose teachings are no doubt the most influential in China, the temple became even more significant as Nanjing became the examination site for Confucian scholars taking the Imperial civil service exam at the nearby Examination Hall. As a symbolic center of Nanjing, the temple has also been the target of aggression as well as veneration and has been destroyed and rebuilt several times, the latest after 1937, following the Japanese invasion. The current buildings are designed to fit the Ming-era architecture of the nearby district. Relics and artwork related to the great sage's life, including one of the largest Confucius statue in the world, plus figures of his eight disciples, are all on display.
Dr. Sun Yat-sen was the public face of the revolution that overthrew the Qing Dynasty in 1911. The Zhongshan Ling- Dr. Sun Yat Sen is a reverential state monument on Zijin Shan that combines modern architecture with Ming Era imperial elements, including a many-tiered flight of steps, traditional decorative huabiao columns, and a blue-roofed symbolic sacrificial hall. An Italian marble rendering of Dr. Sun lays across his sarcophagus within the hall, the ceiling of which is painted with the Kuomingtang flag. The Three Principles of the People, democracy, nationalism and people's livelihood, the revolutionary movement's slogan are inscribed across the door.
The castle-like Zhonghua Men Fortress (Zhonghua Men Chengbao) is singular among the Ming-era structures in Nanjing. As the main southern gate among the Ming City Walls, Zhonghua Gate has pragmatic military functions in every elaborate detail, from the mock wooden doors that hide stone gates to the three courtyards within designed to trap invaders. Zhonghua Gate remains a strategic spot in Nanjing, if not militarily, then for travelers - it lies in a roundabout that is a stone's throw from one of the busiest transit hubs in the city.