After writing about all the things you can do around the Yu Gardens, like visit the Ghost market , have a personalised chop made, spend up big at the Commodities Market, or enjoy looking at the lanterns , I realised that I had never written about the gardens themselves.
The gardens once belonged to a city official, Governor Pan Yunduan, who built Yu Yuan in 1577 as a quiet escape from his busy official life. He built a garden of some thirty pavilions, with intertwining ponds and paths set between majestic gingkos and magnolia trees. Every pavilion faces a different idyllic view, and the garden has many secret corners to explore between its dragon walls. Some of the original trees survive, and are magnificently ancient.
Four hundred years ago a city of merchants sprang up outside the garden walls, selling jade, pearls and silk. Now when you arrive at Yu Gardens you walk through a maze of ancient buildings, still housing merchants and merchandise of all kinds, and some restaurants.
I love the Yu Gardens – they’re ancient and ornate, full of weird rocks and aged trees, and home to hundreds of overfed carp. It’s absolutely essential that you arrive soon after opening time (8.30am) to take advantage of the quietness, and to get a feel for the peacefulness that the gardens can bring to a city full of people and noise.