The abundance of water made possible the development of one of Suzhou’s crowning glories: its many magnificent gardens. The gardens of Suzhou have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, recognizing them as major repositories of culture of cultural achievement. Streams, waterfalls, pools and lakes provide the central design element in a style that came to be emulated across China. These gardens are not the arrays of closely ordered flowers and pruned shrubbery to which westerners are accustomed to; they’re more like miniature parks than gardens in the western sense. The gardens of Suzhou, exquisitely built, were created to harmonize with nature; the goal of designing a garden was to bring a piece of nature, in miniature form, into the home. Most gardens were built during the Ming and Qing dynasties, and even then, space was scarce. The gardens are ingeniously designed to maximize the feeling of a large space in confined quarters. Winding pathways and strategically placed walls with portrait windows provide legendary landscape views.
Suzhou has long been famed as a home of distinguished scholars. After retiring from imperial service, they returned to their home cities and used their wealth to build gardens in which they could shut out the world and devote themselves to study and contemplation. These gardens were places to worship nature and find inspiration for their calligraphy and paintings. Here the scholar-officials pursued their romances and dreamt their poems, passing the languid days, sipping delicate teas and fragrant wines while their companions played chess. This sublime atmosphere still pervades throughout the Suzhou, though at times it may be hard to find serenity when throngs of people are all searching for their own corner of inspiration