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Tourists Attractions in Kaifeng

Kaifeng is one of China's most famous ancient capitals, with around 3000 years of history, and still today retains much of the charm, mostly in a small area enclosed by the Old City Walls. Today, Kaifeng is an attractive city with fine examples of temple and pagoda architecture and some lively markets.

1. Shanshan'gan Guild Hall

The setting up of guild halls in major trading cities had long been a tradition in ancient China, built by merchants from the same areas to accommodate themselves and their hometown friends. The guild halls were usually invested in by the richest of merchants from the region, and were as luxurious as possible in order to compete with the various guild halls of other merchant "families".

The Shanshangan Guild Hall (Shanshangan huiguan) is the most luxuriously built building of its kind in Kaifeng. The hall is a perfect example of Qing dynasty (1644-1911 AD) architecture, and was co-built by merchants from Shanxi, Shaanxi and Gansu provinces (hence the name) as a business club.

How to get there:  take a taxi and have the driver to drop you off at the entrance of Xufu Jie. From the railway station a taxi will cost less than RMB15.

Opening Hours: 8am-4:30pm.

Cost: RMB6.

2. Iron Pagoda Park

The Iron Pagoda Park (Tieta gongyuan) is situated within the northeastern corner of the old city walls, beside the Henan University. The park is dominated by the pagoda that sits in its center, overlooking the Iron Pagoda Lake and the city walls.

The pagoda was built in the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127 AD) at a time when Kaifeng was crowned as the capital of the country, and as such the pagoda was one of the most impressive of its time. Historically, the pagoda has suffered many traumas over the years, though, from flooding that buried the base in silt, to earthquakes and cultural revolution antics that tested the building's strength.

This octagonal shaped pagoda presently has 13 floors and rises to a total height of 56 meters. The tiles that line the outside of the building are, despite the name, clay, but coloured and glazed to represent the colour of rusty iron. Many of the tiles also have images carved into them, mainly in the usual Buddhist style. Those who ascend via the spiral staircase to the summit of the pagoda will be rewarded with views of the lake, the ancient walls, and the distant Yellow River that flows, siltily through to the north.

How to get there: Take Bus No.3  from near the railway station to its terminal, then walk to the park or Bus No.1 from Song jie.

Opening Hours: 8am-6pm.

Cost: RMB20 entrance fee, and a further RMB5 for admission into the pagoda.

3. Xiangguo Temple

The Xiangguo Temple (Xiangguo si) has had one of the most turbulent histories in China, having been destroyed, rebuilt, sacked, renovated and commercialised beyond recognition. The temple was first built in 555 AD, during the Northern Qi Dynasty (550-577 AD), when Chinese Buddhism was at one of its peaks in history. Since then, the temple has had its ups and downs, in close relation to the fortunes of the city that surrounds it. The temple has all along retained, however, great significance as an academic institution with the people in central China. Nowadays, the temple layout is still strictly in the Chinese style, and is composed of, from south to north, the Shanmen Gate,  the Heavenly King Hall, the Grand Hall, the Drum & Bell Towers and the Sutra Library.

The temple developed its role as one of the main Buddhist centers in China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), when the temple was bestowed with its present name by the emperor of the day. But true greatness here was found during the beginning of the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD): as Kaifeng became the capital, so the temple grew to its largest size, with expansion and renovation. It was during this time that the temple was home to over 1000 monks and 64 Buddhist colleges.

But fate is a fickle goddess and the temple, and city, were soon to be abandoned. The next several centuries saw repeated wars and destructive floods. The most brutal of these was caused by a retreating Ming Dynasty army in 1644, who, in an attempt to halt the approach of the marauding Manchu invasion decided to open the Yellow River floodgates. The decision proved a rash one (similar to Chiang's attempt in Zhengzhou almost 3 centuries later), killing the majority of the population in Kaifeng...and destroying the temple.

Nowadays the temple resembles the rebuilding that was made during the Qing Dynasty, 1976, although restoration has taken place many times since then. The temple has also been affected by modern commercialism, and the entertainments center in the front courtyard is the worst of this. The temple is certainly still worth visiting though, with some interesting Buddhist articles hidden about including a beautiful Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD) bronze Buddha in the Great Treasure House (Daxiong baodian), a 3 meter high gold leaf statue of Guanyin, Goddess of Mercy, in the final octagonal hall, and an old cast iron bell within the Bell tower.

Address: Ziyou Lu, in the center of the old, walled city.
Opening Hours: 8am-6pm.
Cost: RMB15.

4. Imperial Song Street

During the heady days of the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD), when Kaifeng flourished as both the capital and a major trading post on the famous silk road, the city was famed for its illustrious architecture and opulent citizens. It was at this time that the imperial street was built, meant for the exclusive use of the emperor, that extended from the Imperial Palace's Grand Gate to the outside of the city wall. The street was over 5km long, and was lined on both sides by beautiful ancient architecture.

The new Song Imperial Street (Song jie), recreating, in miniature, the original route, is built partly on the original site of the Palace. The street is only 400 meters long, on the northern section of Zhongshan Lu, and was designed in 1988 in an attempt by the authorities to restore the glorious past of Kaifeng. The final product is not the greatest feat of architectural design, but is definitely worth a look, even if only for those hunting for gifts.

The street is entered by an arch at the southern end, and is clustered with shops and restaurants, including a couple of good art  and nice curio shops. Most of the commodities sold here are travelers' souvenirs such as Henan specialties, artifacts, calligraphy, New Year pictures and traditional paintings. All of the shopping assistants are dressed in traditional Song Dynasty costume.

How to get there: The Song Street is situated right in the center of the old walled town and is therefore accessible by foot from most areas. The journey cannot be more than 2 kilometers. For those outside of the old walled city a taxi can be taken which shouldn't  cost more than RMB15.

5. Jewish Synagogue

One of the most interesting things about Kaifeng, besides its position as one of China's seven major capitals, is the Jewish community that have prospered and suffered in the town since ancient times. The presence of a Jewish community in this area of eastern China has long been a mystery, although it seems fairly likely that their presence is related to trade. A Song dynasty (960-1279 AD) stele, now preserved in the Kaifeng museum, states that the immigrants arrived in the city around 3000 years ago. It is known that the population increased with the establishment of the legendary Silkroad, 1000-1500 years ago, the Jews arriving as Persian immigrants and silk merchants. By the late thirteenth century there were about 2,000 Jews in Kaifeng.

Nowadays relics of the Jewish past are few in Kaifeng, since many have been removed abroad for preservation. There are however a few sights worth visiting for the true believer, including a visit to the Museum (Kaifeng bowuguan) on Yingbin lu, where a few steles (from 1469, 1512, and 1679), a seventh century drawing of the synagogue and a photographic exhibition are still kept within. Several articles from the synagogue can also still be found in the local Eastern Grand Mosque (Dongda si), including the the original blue tile roofing of the building.

Address: On the corner of Beixing tujie and Pingfang jie.
How to get there: Take Bus No.3 from the railway station to the No.4 People's Hospital.
Cost:  No cost for admission to the synagogue, but you have to find a hospital staff to show you the remains in the yard of the hospital.