West Lake Hangzhou is located in the western area of Hangzhou City's center. There are dozens of lakes called West Lake worldwide, but "West Lake" usually refers to the Hangzhou West Lake. It is surrounded by mountains on three sides, with an area of around 6.5 square kilometers. The circumference is around 15 kilometers. The average depth of West Lake is o.8 meters, and the capacity is about 14,290,000 cubic meters. The lake is divided by Gu Shan, Bai, Su and Yanggong Causeways into five areas. Ordered by their areas, they are Outer West Lake (外西湖), West Inner Lake (西裡湖, or 後西湖, or 後湖), North Inner Lake (北裡湖 or 裡西湖), Little South Lake (小南湖 or 南湖) and Yue Lake (岳湖). "Outer West Lake" is the largest. "Gu Shan" or Gu Hill is the largest natural island in the lake. Su & Bai Causeways run cross the lake. Three small man-made islands, "Xiao Ying Zhou" (小瀛洲), "Hu Xing Ting" (湖心亭), "Ruan Gong Dun" (阮公墩), lie in the center of Outer West Lake. Thus, the basic layout is "one hill, two causeways, three islands, and five lakes".
Qin Dynasty to Tang Dynasty
Over 2,000 years ago, West Lake was still a part of Qiantang River. Due to the sediment of earth, the surrounding mountains on north and south sides of the lake, Wu Mountain and Baoshi Mountain gradually stretched to form shoal heads. Later these sand spits slowly merged to finally form a sandbank. A lagoon emerged to the west of the sandbank. That is the old West Lake. This occurred during Qin and Han Dynasties. "West Lake Dream Searching" (西湖夢尋) written by Zhang Dai (張岱) recorded, "Big Stone Buddhist Temple. According to ancient history, Qin Shi Huang traveled east into the sea, and moored the boat to this stone." The referred Big Stone Buddhist Temple was located by Baoshi Mountain, to north of the West Lake. These days the "Qin Shi Huang mooring stone" can still be seen.
After Daye 6th year(610), Sui Dynasty, Jiangnan Canal was opened and connected to North Canal. Thus, five major rivers of China, Hai River, Yellow River, Huai River, Yangtze River, and Qiantang River, were all connected, which facilitated the transportation in Hangzhou and boosted the economic development. The tourism in Hangzhou also started to boom.
In the Tang Dynasty, West Lake had an area of roughly 10.8 square kilometers, nearly as double as the present size. The western and southern parts of lake all extended to the foot of West Hill. The northeastern part stretched to Wulin Gate area. Pilgrims could take the boat to the hill-foot and walked up to the hill to worship. Because there was virtually no hydraulic project in those days, the lake flooded when encountering heavy rains, and was dried up during a long drought.
In September, Jianzhong 2nd year (781), Li Mi (李泌) was appointed as the governor of Hangzhou. In order to supply fresh water, he creatively induced the water into the city. He ordered to dig six wells in the populous areas like Qiantang Gate and Yongjin Gate, and set up "shadow conduit" (bury clay and bamboo pipes underground) to introduce lake water into the city. The six wells have long vanished today. The only existing relic is the Xiangguo Well, located to west of Jinting Bridge on Jiefang Rd. The other five wells were Xi Well (to west of Xiangguo Well), Fang Well (or Four-eyed Well), Jinniu Well (northwest of Xi Well), Baigui Well (to west of Longxiang Bridge), and Xiaofang Well (or Six-eyed Well, inside Qiantang Gate, now Xiaoche Bridge area).
In middle of the Tang Dynasty Zhenyuan era (785-804), poet Bai Juyi (白居易) came to Hangzhou as a governor. Already an accomplished poet, his deeds at Hangzhou made him a great governor. He realised that the farmland nearby depended on the water of Xī Hú, but due to negligence of former governors, the old dyke had collapsed, the water level of Xī Hú dried out, and the local farmers suffered severe drought. He ordered the construction of a stronger and taller dyke, with a dam to control the flow of water, and thus solved the drought problem. The livelihood of local people of Hangzhou improved over the following years. Now that Bai Juyi had more leisure time to enjoy the beauty of Xī Hú, he visited Xī Hú almost every day. He ordered the construction of a causeway connecting the Broken Bridge with the Solitary Hill, to facilitate walking on foot, instead of depending on boat. Then he planted coolabah trees and willows trees along the dyke, making it a beautiful landmark of Xī Hú. This causeway was later named Bai Causeway (白堤) in Bai Juyi's honour.
About the formation of West Lake, there are few records in ancient documents. "West Lake Sight-Seeing Record" (西湖游覽志) of Ming Dynasty, column one, says, "West Lake is surrounded by mountains on three sides. Streams wander down the hills into the pond. There're hundreds of springs underneath. Accumulated water forms the lake." (西湖三面環山，溪谷縷注，下有淵泉百道，潴而為湖。) Modern scholars studied topography, geology, sediment and hydrodynamics, and generally held that West Lake was a lagoon formed gradually from a gulf. In Minguo 9th year (1920), scientist Zhu Kezhen published "The Cause of Formation of West Lake in Hangzhou" (杭州西湖生成的原因) after examining the topography around the lake. He claimed, "West Lake originally was a little bay on left side of Qiantang River. Later the earth in the river sedimented and slowly corked the mouth of the bay, hence a lagoon formed." Zhu even postulated, based on the calculation of sedimentary rate, that West Lake was formed about 12,000 years ago. Zhu also thought when the lake was initially formed, it was even larger than what we saw today. But the creeks coming down from the hills surrounding on three sides brought earth and soils to fill in the lake, so that the water area gradually shrank. West Lake wouldn't have exist today if without all the dredging work done in the history. In 1924, geologist Zhang Hongzhao (章鴻釗) published "One Explanation of the Formation of West Lake". While supporting Zhu's arguments, he supplemented that the formation of West Lake started with tidal force building the lake bank. Later, the alternation of beach helped maintain the water level. These were two prerequisites to the formation of the lake.
West Lake not only hosts abundant natural and cultural resorts, it also possesses various plant resources. Around the year, all kinds of flowers and plants in West Lake and on surrounding mountains blossomed alternatively, which enriches the landscape of plantation around the lake and also significantly improves the environmental quality of the city.
Peach Blossom: On the lake banks and Su and Bai Causeways are planted a large number of willows and peach trees. It is said one willow is accompanied by one peach tree. Other horticultural plants include Magnolia, Cherry, Confederate Rose, etc. The blooming season of peach tree in Hangzhou usually ranges from end of February to middle of April.
Lotus in the Breeze at the Winding CourtyardLotus: Some sites in Hangzhou were named after Lotus, such as lotus pond (荷花池頭) and lotus lane (荷花塘弄). There is traditional food called "lotus cake". The fossil of lotus seeds was unearthed in Kuahuqiao Relic in Xiaoshan, which indicates at least before Tang Dynasty there was cultivated lotus. Yang Wanli of Song Dynasty wrote poem, "Lotus leaves grow to the sky with endless green, lotus blossoms bathed in the sunlight appear especially red. (接天蓮葉無窮碧，映日荷花别样紅), which brought high reputation to the lotus in West Lake. Nowadays, there are 14 lotus cultivation areas in the lake, totally 130 Chinese acres. Most are in "North Inside Lake" and "Yue Lake". According to statistics, West Lake lotus starts to bloom in early June, and reaches peak blossom time in late June. It could last till late August or early September.
Osmanthus: As the city flower, osmanthus is one of representative plants of Hangzhou. Poet Bai Juyi wrote "search osmanthus around the temple on hill in the middle of Autumn", indicating osmanthus had been cultivated as early as in Tang Dynasty. Osmanthus trees have been massively planted in parks around the lake, and the best-known locations to appreciate are "Sweet Osmanthus Rain at Manjuelong Village", one of "New Ten Scenes of West Lake", and Hangzhou Botanical Garden. Osmanthus can be divided into four major species, Thunbergii group(金桂), Latifolius Group (銀桂), Aurantiacus Group (丹桂) and Fragrans Division (四季桂). Among them, the Thunbergii and Latifolius are the best. Every year around mid-autumn, the sweet-scented osmanthus blossoming is a highlight of tourism in Hangzhou. In addition to its elegant looks, osmanthus is also edible. Thunbergii and Latifolius boast intensive sweet scent, and are natural ingredients for seasoning. Pickled osmanthus blossoms mixed with white sugar becomes a traditional food of Hangzhou, "Sweet Osmanthus" (糖桂花). West Lake Osmanthus blooming period commences from early September, lasting till early November.
Plum Blossom: Lin Bu (林逋), a famed recluse in Song Dynasty, lived in Solitary Hill. He was characterized by have plum blossom as his wife and cranes as his sons. He wrote "Its sparse shadow leaning across water limpid and shallow. Its hidden fragrance floating under moonlight dim and yellow." (疏影橫斜水清淺，暗香浮動月黃昏), which became the best-known poem hymning the flower, and enriched the cultural deposits of plum blossoms of West Lake. Ling Peak, Solitary Hill and West Creek have long been the three finest spots of plum blossom cherishing in Hangzhou. The flowering season is typically around Spring Festival, from late January to middle February.
Tulip: The "Prince Bay Park" (太子灣公园) of Hangzhou imported almost all species of tulips from Netherlands in 1992, and held annual tulips exhibition ever since. It has become a new scenic spot on the lake bank. The normal tulips blossom season spans from middle of March to end of April.
Because the city government has paid increasing attention to environmental protection, the ecological conditions in West Lake area have been gradually improved. Mallards, halcyons and koi carps are among the most frequently spotted animals in the lake. What's more, squirrels loiter along among trees on the lake bank.
Ten Scenes of Xī Hú
View of Xī Hú from a row boatTraditionally, there are ten best-known scenic spots on the Xī Hú, each remembered by a four-character epithet. Collectively, they are known as the "Ten Scenes of Xī Hú" (10 Scenic Spots in Xī Hú 西湖十景). Each is marked by a stela with the epithet written in the calligraphy of the Qianlong Emperor. They are:
Dawn on the Su Causeway in Spring (蘇堤春曉)
Curved Yard and Lotus Pool in Summer (曲院風荷)
Moon over the Peaceful Lake in Autumn (平湖秋月)
Remnant Snow on the Bridge in Winter (斷橋殘雪)
Leifeng Pagoda in the Sunset (雷峰夕照)
Two Peaks Piercing the Clouds (雙峰插雲)
Orioles Singing in the Willows (柳浪聞鶯)
Fish Viewing at the Flower Pond (花港觀魚)
Three Ponds Mirroring the Moon (三潭印月)
Evening Bell Ringing at the Nanping Hill (南屏晚鐘)
Yue Fei Memorial HallOther attractions include:
Yue-Wang Temple (岳王廟), the tomb and memorial hall to Yue Fei (岳飛).
Lingyin Temple (靈隱寺), a Buddhist monastery and surrounding hills and gardens.
Long Jing tea farms (龍井茶園), an area renowned for the quality of its tea leaves.
Galloping Tiger Spring (虎跑夢泉), a spring famous for its mineral water.
Tomb of Su Xiao Xiao (蘇小小墓)
Tomb of Wu Song (武松墓)
Classical Chinese buildings inside Xī HúXī Hú is said to be the incarnation of Xi Shi, one of the Four Beauties of ancient China. Hence, since ancient times, Xī Hú was associated with a large number of romatic poets, profound philosophers, national heroes and heroines.
Eastern Jin Dynasty philosopher Ge Hong practiced Taoism in the Ge Mountain, and wrote his great philosophical work: Bao Pu Zhi (抱朴子).
Tang Dynasty poet Luo Binwang reclused in Lingyin Temple
Tang Dynasty poet-governor Bai Juyi built the first causeway, which is called the Bai Causeway.
Song Dynasty poet-governor Su Dongpo, dredged the lake and built up the Su Causeway, making it into another beautiful landmark of Xī Hú. He also invented a special recipe for preparing pork: the Dongpo Pork. Dongpo Pork is on the menu of every restaurant in Hangzhou
Song Dynasty national hero Yue Fei was buried near Xī Hú
The great Ming Dynasty essayist Zhang Dai, wrote a number great essays about Xī Hú in Reminiscence and Dream of Tao'an (陶庵夢憶), and a whole book: Search for Xī Hú in Dreams (西湖夢尋).
Kunming Lake, the central lake on the grounds of the Summer Palace in Beijing, was created by extending an existing water body to imitate Hangzhou's Xī Hú.
The central pond of the Kyu Shiba Rikyu Garden in Tokyo, Japan was inspired by this lake.