The ancient site of Pingyao
Matilda Hickson visits the UNESCO World Heritage site of Pingyao, in Shanxi Province, China and discovers an ancient city still very much alive
Visiting the old town of Pingyao is one of those wonderful moments when you feel as though you have stepped back in time - because you have!
A UNESCO World Heritage site, the original town is still surrounded by its city walls that were built more than 2,000 years ago and the town has been the local seat of government since the Qin dynasty (221-206 BCE), the first dynasty of Imperial China. Pingyao became an important economic centre in the 16th century and in the 19th century it was the financial centre of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). During this period, there were 20 financial institutions in the town, half of those in the whole of China.
However, in the 20th century the banks collapsed due to the rise of Shanghai and Hong Kong as financial centres, and so Pingyao went into decline. Fortunately for us, Pingyao was ignored during the Cultural Revolution (when many ancient cities were destroyed) and then in the late 20th century it re-emerged as the perfect ancient city, dating to the Ming (1368- 1644) and Qing Dynasties, with many of the streets and storefronts still retaining their original character.
The ancient streets are wide and for anyone who loves history, it is wonderful to be able to walk along them, knowing that not much has changed in hundreds of years. No cars can enter the old city but beware the golf carts that whizz around, bringing the tourists and their luggage to their hotels. The old town is filled with many temples and museums and here are a few of my favourite places and recommendations to visit and enjoy.