Lion Grove Garden
Don visited Shizi-Lin, known as the Forest of Lions Garden. It contains the largest rocks and most elaborate rockeries of any garden in Suzhou. Also known as Lion Grove, it was first built in 1342 during the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368 AD) by Monk Tianru and other Zen Buddhist disciples as a memorial to their master, Monk Zhong Feng.
The garden was named Lion Grove because Zhong Feng once lived at Lion Cliff at the Xitianmu Mountains in Zhejiang province, and in the garden were a large number of rocks shaped like lions. Soon after, it became a popular place for scholars to write poems and paint pictures. After the death of Monk Tianru, the garden declined and changed hands many times.
During the Qing Dynasty the garden was ruined and built over for housing. It was rebuilt in the 1700’s, then in 1918 it was purchased and revived by a wealthy industrialist. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China the garden was donated to the state.
Kingdom of Rockery
Covering nearly half of the total area of the garden, rockworks made from Taihu limestone are piled up in layers to form peaks, crags, valleys and caverns. There are nine mountain paths and 21 caves. (Taihu limestone is produced in Lake Taihu, about 40km away in Wuxi City.)
Since the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) connoisseurs have been selecting the best limestone rocks from Lake Taihu for the gardens of emperors, high officials and rich estate owners. During the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD) rock appreciation reached such extremes that the expense of hauling rocks from Lake Taihu to the capital is said to have bankrupted the empire.
The Lion Grove consists of 22 buildings, 25 tablets and plateaux, 71 steles, 23 brick carvings and five carved wooden screens, as well as many old pine and cypress trees. The garden has richly ornamental pavilions and towers in different styles. The highest of the rockworks is ‘Lion Peak’. It is a labyrinth of caves, and apparently people unfamiliar with these caves may easily get lost in them.
Lion Grove Garden (Shizi-Lin)
23 Yuanlin Road
Suzhou, Jiangsu, China
Open: 8.15am-4.15pm daily