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A brief introduction to Quanzhou

Updated: 2014-12-16 09:24:34

( chinadaily.com.cn )

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Quanzhou is located on the southeast coast of Fujian province and faces the Taiwan Strait. It was among the first group of famous historical and cultural cities designated by the State Council. Quanzhou was also an important harbor and starting point of the Maritime Silk Road.It is the ancestral home of many overseas Chinese.

Quanzhou covers 11,015 square meters of land surface and 11,360 sq m of oceanic area.Its resident population reached over 7,8 million in 2009. It has four districts, three county-level cities, five counties - and also includes the Quanzhou Economic & Technological Development Zone.

The city has a subtropical marine monsoon climate, a coastline of 541 kilometers, and 58.7 percent of its area is covered by forest. It boasts rich mineral resources such as iron, manganese, gold, coal and quartz. The port of Quanzhou has facilities in four bays of the Taiwan Strait.

Visitors to the city can still see traditional Chinese temples and opera houses, and there are also 686 historical and cultural sites, including 20 sites under state protection, such as Kaiyuan temple, Anping bridge and Chonggu ancient town.

Radiating with lovely historic charm, it is famous as the starting point for the Maritime Silk Road and as the largest port in Asia during the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1271-1368) dynasties. During the peak of its ancient glory, the city hosted a number of legendary travelers that included Marco Polo and Moroccan explorer Ibn Battuta, who compared Quanzhou to the Egyptian port city of Alexandria.

One important group of foreigners who came to Quanzhou via the Maritime Silk Road during the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) were Muslim merchants. A testimony of their clout is the majestic Qingjing Mosque, also known as the Ashab Mosque. It was built to resemble a mosque from Damascus, Syria, in 1009, and it is one of the oldest Arabic-style mosques in China.

The 20-meter-high arched gate is made of green granite. Its domes are carved with lotus plants and Arabic scriptures. When Islamic preachers followed their trade contacts to Quanzhou, the Ashab Mosque's worshipping hall became the center of Islamic prayer in the region.

Although the hall's large dome collapsed in an earthquake, the open-air, grassy field dotted with gigantic pillars evokes an awe-inspiring sense of solemnity.

For a closer glimpse into the city's historical and cultural past, include Wudianshi neighborhood, or "Five Shops District", in your itinerary. A 30-minute car ride from the city's downtown area, the district includes more than 100 traditional buildings from the Song and Ming (1368-1644) dynasties. The buildings were renovated and relocated into the area, part of a project launched in 2012 to resurrect and protect the city's cultural heritage.

The neighborhood gets its name from a Tang Dynasty legend that boasts of the first-class dishes and impeccable service of five restaurants owned by a family surnamed Cai.

Walking among the buildings is like walking down the city's memory lane. Almost all of the traditional houses were built with huge granite slabs mixed with red brick in what seems like an irregular pattern, but which is a distinctive style of southern Fujian architecture. The architectural craftsmanship is illuminated by the Cai Family ancestral hall, the centerpiece of the district.

In honor of the family who operated the five restaurants, the hall has a graceful swallowtail roof ridge that is dotted with intricate carvings of flowers and birds. Vivid brick sculptures of people and time-honored couplets are inscribed on pillars featuring vigorous cursive script.

Quanzhou bustles with a lively street food scene, which last year attracted A Bite of China, the documentary series about Chinese cuisines, to film in the city.

Top on the recommendation list are beef noodles that have a chewy and tender texture and paste noodles, a signature local soup that combines thread-like noodles, shrimps and clams.

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