Exploring Guangzhou’s History

Guangzhou, the third largest city in China and a modern metropolis, has a history nearly as long and storied as China itself. One of the best ways for visitors to gain an understanding of modern Guangzhou is through the lens of its history, a history that lives on through several historic attractions.

If you plan to start at the beginning, you’ll have to visit the Museum of the Mausoleum of the Nanyue King, one of the nation’s best museums. Within its walls, visitors can see evidence of Guangzhou’s ancient past through relics discovered in the tomb of Nanyue ruler Zhao Mo, uncovered in 1983. The artifacts displayed here, including Zhao Mo’s jade burial garment, date back more than 2,000 years.

Jump forward to the sixth century with a visit to the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees, one of Guangzhou’s oldest surviving sites. Built in 537 AD, the temple remains an active Zen temple and one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks.

While the first Europeans -- the Portuguese -- arrived in Guangzhou in the early sixteenth century, it wasn’t until the mid nineteenth century that Guangzhou opened up as a treaty port and established foreign concessions on Shamian Island. Today, visitors to the island can stroll the quiet streets and take in the British and French colonial architecture of this popular expatriate enclave.

Near the end of the nineteenth century, another of Guangzhou’s top historic sites was built, the Chen Clan Academy. This complex of 19 traditional structures is to Guangzhou what the Forbidden City is to Beijing, and today, it houses the Guangzhou Museum of Folk Art. Not only is it an excellent place to learn about Cantonese life in the late 1800s, it offers a glimpse into the region’s art history as well.
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