There is a famous saying in China, “If you want to see the scenery of 500 years, go to Beijing; If you want to see the scenery of 5000 years, go to Shanxi province.” As a province with rich history, Shanxi speaks well for the essence of Ancient Chinese culture. The first time I heard of Zhangbi was from a award called “The Top Ten Charming Ancient Town of China 2005”, the mysterious ancient castle.
Zhangbi Ancient Castle is located in Zhangbi village, Jiexiu city of Shanxi, about 1040 meters above the sea level. It was built besides the mountain, with the unique advantage of its location. Despite it is only 0.12 square kilometers of size, still it was a rare underworld ancient city with high archaeological value. Combining military, living, production, religious activities as one, it can be used as a good military defense castle. Not only that, it also got small-sized bell tower and smooth traffic network, as well as many religious places.
The entrance is from a normal local resident’s house, after a short while of darkness in the tunnel, a amazing world is right in front of you. It is just like you are walking in to a remote yet mysterious maze with no exit to be found. Tunnels tangling together, ancient wells sitting quietly, with the dim yellow light on the wall, actually it feels a little bit spooky. At the lowest spot of the castle, you can look up and see the sky right above, it’s such an unspeakable feeling, like you can reach up to the sky.
The word “Bi “ means fortress in China, so chances are great that Zhangbi was used as a simple military fortress when firstly built. Other constructions from the castle also could proved that point. There are numerous underground tunnels with 3 floors, first is only 1 meters high from the ground, the middle is 8-10 meters and the lower is about 17-20 meters. On the tunnel ground there are some small holes, according to the tour guide, those are for oil lamps. Besides the well-established fortress, the temples here are also something to look at. There are 16 temples in total, with different functions and worshiping different gods.
I’ve been told only rich families could live in this castle in old ages, even a small piece on the gate were beautifully designed. However, most offspring of those ancient families have moved out from the castle so their old houses are sealed already. Such a pity. Another highlight of the castle are those ancient relic constructions from Ming and Qing dynasty. They have Kongwang Buddha Palace in the north, facing the south, with statue of Kongwang Buddha inside and stories of him carved on the wall. On the top there is delicately-made glass decorations, with vivid figures on it. Experts say the two glass tablets are the only discovered artifact, with great historical value.