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Hangzhou

Hangzhou is a city rich with history and culture, spanning back over 2,200 years. It made a name for itself in the Seventh Century, when the Grand Canal, the world's longest canal opened and linked Hangzhou to Beijing and other centers of trade. The South Song Dynasty (A.D. 1127-1279) helped make Hangzhou famous when the imperial family settled here early in the 12th century.

In China, Hangzhou is known as the "Paradise on Earth". It is celebrated in poetry and paintings for its beauty and a favorite imperial retreat. In the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368), the Venetian traveler, Marco Polo visited Hangzhou and wrote that it was "without doubt the finest and noblest city in the world".
 
Hangzhou's tourist sites attract millions of visitors every year, and reflect Hangzhou's long history as a center of culture, learning and religion. The scenic hub of the city is its world-famous West Lake, which long ago was a lagoon adjoining the Qiantang River. It was dredged during the 8th century AD, and later a dyke was built that cut it off from the river and formed the lake, which today is about 3 square kilometers in width. West Lake, with its temples, tea plantations, causeways, bridges and pagodas, is a treasure-house of sights that have inspired poets and painters for centuries.

Visitors often follow a scenic itinerary known as the Ten Scenes of West Lake, which includes prospects with delightfully poetic names like Lingering Snow on the Broken Bridge, Orioles Singing in the Willows, Three Pools Reflecting the Moon, and Twin Peaks Piercing the Cloud. Equally intriguing are the names of the Ten New Scenes of West Lake, which include Inquiring about Tea at Dragon Well, and Heavenly Wind over Wu Hill. One of the lake's most-visited spots is its largest island, Solitary Island, also known as Solitary Mountain. It is the site of the Zhejiang Provincial Museum, which has an excellent and well-curated collection of artifacts from prehistoric times right through to the Ming and Qing dynasties. The island also has a peaceful park and a popular restaurant.

Other attractions for visitors include the superb Lingyin Temple, first built in the 4th century AD, the Peak That Flew Here, a famous historic peak directly faces the temple, The Mausoleum of General Yue Fei, a popular visiting-spot for Chinese tourists, who are drawn partly by the patriotic appeal of this 12th-century Chinese military hero, and partly by the scenic beauty of the mausoleum's setting, and the Six Harmonies Pagoda, with a history dating back to the Northern Song Dynasty (AD 960 - 1127).

Further afield there are two parks that epitomize Hangzhou's commitment to environmental preservation. The Dongming Mountain Hill Forest Park repays the 20km trip from the city with lush forests, fragrant vegetation and excellent walking opportunities. Just to the west of the city lies Xixi National Wetland Park, the only park of this kind in China: it aims to preserve the ancient wetlands which for centuries have been part of the ecology of the southernmost reaches of the Grand Canal.

Water travel is also an option: visitors traveling to Suzhou and Wuxi can re-live the romance of bygone days with a journey up the Grand Canal to these ancient destinations.

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