When it comes to poster-boys for colonial architecture in Mainland China, two places come to mind. The first is, naturally, Shanghai and the iconic Shanghai Bund (which features next month). The second, which may come as a bit of a surprise to those unfamiliar with China, is Gulangyu Island, in Xiamen.
The island is a perfectly preserved enclave of European history and architecture, located less than a mile off the coast of the city of Xiamen. Here it was, that the British and other Europeans established their foreign consulates and residences in the aftermath of the Opium War in the 1840s. And much to the delight of any history buff, most of it still remains!
The journey to the island is a bit of a harrowing experience, however. Gulangyu is one of the most popular destinations for domestic tourists in all of China. Tens of thousands of Chinese descent upon the tiny 2 sq kilometers (less than one sq mile) each day. Every single one of the ferries that make the ten minute journey across the narrow straits every ten minutes is packed dangerously full to the brim – a disaster waiting to happen.
When you do get to the island, however, hopefully on one of the earliest ferries of the day, it is surprising how large tracts of it are almost devoid of people.
True, the core tourist and commercial zones of the island are heaving with people; but there are pathways and side streets further off the centre that are quiet, tranquil and suffused with history – largely because, the island being car-free, the main way of getting to these remote spots is by walking. And, walking the entire island in one day is NOT for the faint-hearted – it is larger than it looks.
This gallery presents a snapshot of Gulangyu Island, in no particular walking order. There is so much to see on the island that it is quite literally impossible to re-present everything that one sees as one walks.
What I’ve done is instead present these snapshots in broad themes. Former Consulates is the first: Gulangyu was the home of 13 Consulates in its heyday and here I present 4 of them.
Churches is the next, followed by Villas and Residences – these magnificent specimens of historical architecture are the highlight of any tour to Gulangyu; some of them I have been able to identify and some I haven’t – and I end with a quick series on Doorways, which are unique aspects of the architecture on the island.
I hope you enjoy the view.