Of Suzhou’s four classic gardens, the Lion Grove Garden is the most unique and original. Lion Grove Garden is famous for it’s elaborate mazes made from Taihu rock.
Lion Grove Garden was financed and built in 1342 by a group of Zen Buddhist monks as a residence for their Abbot Tian Ru. Tian Ru was the disciple of Monk Zhong Feng from the temple of Lion Cliff on Tianmu Mountain so the garden was named Lion Grove in Monk Zhong Feng’s honour.
The Lion Grove Garden was very popular with China’s ancient rulers and was patronised by several emperors. Emporer Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) visited the garden in 1703 and gifted the garden with a tablet that he had written “Lion Grove Temple”. With a reign of 61 years, Emperor Kangxi Emperor was China’s longest reining emperor and an invaluable patron to the garden.
Emperor Qianlong, the grandson of Kangxi, visited the garden 6 times and wrote 10 poems about the garden. He was so enamoured to the garden that he made replicas of the garden in Beijing and Chengde. Emperor Xianfeng, the great grandson of Qianlong, was not a big fan of gardens and the Lion Grove Garden fell into disrepair during his reign.
The garden was purchased by a wealthy merchant Bei Renyuan in 1918 who had it repaired and added attractions such as Hall of Joyous Feasts. The garden was “donated” (a nice way of saying requisitioned) to the government after the liberation of China in 1949. The government renovated the garden and opened it to the public in 1954. The garden was listed as a world heritage site in 2000.
Grounds & Layout
The garden is divided into two main parts. The housing complex and the combination of rockery(maze) and central pond.
The housing complex contains richly ornamented buildings, halls and pavilions that each have their own style and character. Interestingly this part of the garden holds a concrete boat on the edge of the pond with a tiered structure on the boat. This boat is almost the same as the concrete boat in Beijing’s Summer Palace.
The rockery/maze looks pretty ordinary from the outside but is amazing on the inside with over 9 winding paths through 21 caves across 3 levels. The maze is very tricky, confusing and you can easily become disoriented while inside it. Moving from one part of this garden near the pond to another is very indirect because most access points are through the maze.
The maze is made out of limestone Taihu rocks from Taihu Lake in Wuxi city. Originally the garden’s rock formations were arranged to look like lions in positions such as playing, fighting and sleeping. Over the centuries the lime stone rocks were worn by erosion and no longer resemble lions.
The Lion Grove Garden is in the centre of Suzhou city just south of the train station and right next to the Humble Administrator’s Garden. You can get to the garden 1,2 and 5 tourist buses and the 202, 204, 23, 40, 78, 301 and 305 public buses.
Suzhou city is not very large so if you are already in the inner city, you can easily walk to Lion Grove Park.
Tickets, hours and time needed
The ticket price is 30rmb and the park is open from 8am to 5pm. You can easily see the park in 1 hour with out rushing and you will definitely not need two hours. The park starts to fill up in the late part of the afternoon with tour buses still arriving after four so try to visit the park in the morning when it is less crowed.