PINGYAO / DATONG
Almost the entirety of this square mile, 2,700 year-old walled city in northern China consists of traditional cobbled streets and classically-styled courtyard homes, making it easy nowadays to picture Pingyao during its heyday two centuries ago as China’s premier banking center.
Founded upon traditional Chinese architectural principles the city was centered on the City Tower with four main streets radiating outwards in the four cardinal directions to the surrounding four-mile city wall. The positioning of its six gates -- one in the north, one in the south and two each on the east and west walls – gave rise to Pingyao’s nickname, “the turtle town”.
Pingyao rose to prominence in ancient times on the trade route along which the teas and silks of southern China were transported to Russia and beyond. Many centuries later, as a major banking center, it became one of the most affluent and handsome towns in China, and is now preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Pingyao is one of the best places in China to experience traditional Han Chinese culture, with temples dedicated to Confucius and local Gods, administrative buildings and banks as well as impressive courtyard mansions. One such residence not to be missed is that of the Qiao Family, whose austerely beautiful home became the setting for Zhang Yimou’s famous 1991 movie Raise the Red Lantern.