The Yu Gardens (Yù Yuán, 豫园) are a classical oasis—albeit a generally crowded one—in Shanghai's relentlessly modernizing cityscape. The gardens, completed in 1577 by the aristocratic Ming Dynasty Pan family, retain their original grace and elegance even in the face of throngs of tourists and the commercial hubbub of Yuyuan Market just on the other side of the garden walls.
Situated in the midst of the Old City near the Temple of the City God, the gardens make an excellent and restful stop in a walking tour of the area. The famous Mid-Lake Pavilion Teahouse (Húxīn Tíng, 湖心亭) sits right next to the garden's main entrance, reached by way of the zigzag bridge across a large carp pond. An excellent example of Ming-era garden design, Yu Yuan's paths, corridors, rock formations and carefully arranged greenery lead visitors through a space that is much smaller than it appears, past limpid carp ponds, up atop cleverly scaled "mountains," into shady pavilions and through miniature groves of bamboo, ornamental pines, willows, cherry trees and gingko.
Seasonal changes in flora are a delight to track for return visitors, with various flowers blooming from early spring well into the fall. Today's garden is actually a recreation of the original Ming-era garden; the British and Taiping rebels did great damage to the grounds during the First Opium War and Taiping Rebellion, respectively. Be sure to spend some time viewing the Exquisite Jadestone, the Hall of Heralding Spring, the Chamber of Ten Thousand Flowers and the Grand Rockery, among other specific garden spots (maps in English are available upon admission).
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