Golden Age of Classical Chinese Gardens Revealed: Archaeologists Uncover Ancient Garden near Buddhist Monastery
The expansive ruins of an ancient Buddhist garden from the Tang Dynasty have been uncovered by archaeologists working in Sichuan province, China.
The tiered garden, undoubtedly glorious in its time, covered an area of 2500 square meters (26,910 square feet) and boasted a host of interesting features, including an artificial pond, a 90 meter (295 foot) long canal, and a water well, reports The Star Online .
Found buried beneath a construction site in Chengdu in March, the garden is said to date back 1,200 years to the Tang Dynasty (618 AD-907 AD), and excavations have reportedly been completed this month.
Yi Li, project head and an expert from the Chengdu archaeological team said the garden was located nearby a Buddhist temple during the same period. Over 100 years ago several Buddhist sculptures were found in the area, and in modern excavations pottery and stone Buddhist artifacts have been unearthed, notes news site APB Live .
Based on these finds, researchers surmise the garden was connected to the garden landscape of Wanfo Temple.
Wanfo Hall of Zhenguo Temple (Zhangzhugang/ CC BY-SA 3.0 )
According to ChinaCulture, “The historical site of Wanfo Temple, or Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery, is situated not far away from the ruins. It is an ancient monastery with more than one thousand year history located outside the northwest gate of ancient Chengdu, firstly constructed in Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms and destroyed in the warfare in late Ming (1368-1644) and early Qing dynasties (1644-1911).”
The prestigious monastery was legendary for its temple houses. It was named Wanfo, meaning Ten Thousand Figures of Buddha , due to the plethora of statuary found within. Its distinctive buildings and halls were aligned in long rows.
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Along with the garden’s ancient well and irrigation channels, white porcelain vessels were found by archaeologists, as were sturdy clay pots decorated with dragons.
APB Live writes that archaeologists at Chengdu think the ancient ruins and the artifacts suggest the garden near the temple site may not have been as rich or extravagant as a royal garden, as the porcelain was simple and seemingly made for daily usage.
Statues within the Wanfo Hall at Zhenguo temple ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
Classical Chinese garden, Shanghai. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
The art and magnificence of Chinese gardens were at a height during the Tang Dynasty. During what is considered the First Golden Age of classical gardens, grand imperial gardens were constructed and tended, inspired by ancient poetry and legends.
These hilly, rolling gardens were richly landscaped with trees, artificial mountains, and ponds, and were dotted with small-scale pavilions or houses, to echo the legends of the “isles of immortals”. It was said that a remote island between China and Korea was a type of heaven—home of the Eight Immortals—where jewels grew on trees, and palaces were built of gold and silver. No one suffered pain, winter never came, rice bowls were always full, and delicious fruit brought immortality.
A miniature version of Mount Penglai, the legendary home of the Eight Immortals, was recreated in many classical Chinese garden. ( Public Domain )
The grandeur of these imperial gardens were repeated in smaller-scale at ordinary residences and private courtyards, including tiny ponds and terrain built of terra-cotta.
Due to intense interest and research at the time, plant cultivation experienced a boom, and was developed to an unprecedented level. Varied species were created and grown through domestication, transplantation and grafting, mostly to highlight and improve the aesthetics of the plants. Volumes of written work on cultivation and botany were published during this era.
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It was during this dynasty that “Chinese Scholars’ Rocks”, or “Viewing Stones’ were established as a hallmark of Chinese garden esthetic.
Chinese Scholar Rock, Ming Dynasty, 15th century. ( Public Domain )
Tales of various gardens traveled all over China and with the movements of merchants, diplomats, monks and others, the descriptions of opulent, cosmopolitan gardens carried across Asia.
Featured Image: The ruins of a classical Chinese garden landscape of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) uncovered at a construction site in Chengdu, Sichuan province, China. Credit: ChinaNews.com
By Liz Leafloor