Shaxi Town became a hit with tourists during the Hongzhi Period of the Ming Dynasty. As its urban landscape took shape, the town became a popular scenic travel destination, famed for its “Eight Sights”. Prosperity gave rise to the ancient mansions and famed residences along the Qipu River (戚浦河), which stone bridges cross with elegant and classic simplicity.
“The Best Ancient Alley in the Land,” reads a modest plaque inviting travellers to roam through the town’s Ancient Street, which extends for three straight kilometres. Long-established shops line the street. Along the street, yellow flags wave in the wind and bridges peek through the alleys.
The most striking structure that lines the Ancient Street is the Gongs’ Carved-Pattern Hall (龚氏雕花厅), ornamented with carved pillars and painted rafters. The hall’s supporting beams are decorated with cloud patterns, and are finely engraved with graceful and delicate intertwining flower veins. The second floor is home to a “Horseback Riding Building” (走马楼), where a traveller can conceivably visit each room on horseback, unobstructed by obstacles.
The Qipu River, roughly 3 to 5 metres across, runs parallel to the Ancient Street and through Shaxi.. Three ancient bridges straddle the river: the Xin Bridge (新桥), An Bridge (庵桥) and Yixin Bridge (义新桥), all single-arch stone bridges from the Ming and Qing dynasties. An Bridge (庵桥), originally built using wood in the Song Dynasty, was rebuilt with stone during Kangxi Period of the Qing Dynasty. One-third of An Bridge is embedded into the north shore, where it becomes part of the residential area.
Perhaps the most characteristic feature of Shaxi Town is the well-preserved group of waterside buildings along the Qipu. Each riverside home features a shanty and a small stone bridge for the family living in it. Almost half of each home hangs above the river, supported by stone pillars. The clever design means people can live at a safe distance from the water, and allows boats to anchor under the homes.
Buses leave from Shanghai Tourist Distribution Centre (上海旅游集散中心, a 16-minute taxi ride from the Shanghai Bund) to Shaxi town. The journey takes about 1 hour.