Tongli Old Town is a famous ancient village of rivers and lakes. 23 kilometres to the north is Suzhou City. To the north of the town is Jiuli Lake, to the east is Tongli Lake, to the south is Nanxing Lake and to the west is Pangshan Lake. Tong Li is one of several towns on the outskirts of Suzhou known as Little Venice. There are roads, but the main arteries through the town are the canals.
Tongli enjoys fame across China for its beautiful rivers, historic bridges and opulent court yard homes. With a history spanning over 1000 years. Travellers are drawn to this water town by its architecture and waterways but also the vibrant local culture.
The surface of the town is in the shape of a rough circle, surrounded by the inner, middle and outer rivers. It is divided into 7 pieces of land with different sizes, with the water area occupying one-fifth of the total town area. In the town streets two rivers run parallel to each other.
Because of the landscape, almost all of the buildings are constructed along the waterfront. Sets of stairs leading to the canals can be found in front of almost every building, providing locals with easy access to the water. Not surprisingly, life in this picturesque town pretty much revolves around the waterways. Everyday you can see locals venturing down to the water to wash clothes. Apart from that, the canals also serve as the town's main mode of transport.
The water also creates reflections of the town's arched roofs, lofty gables and stone bridges while green willows also line the banks can. This creates a truly poetic atmosphere.
One of Tongli's most famous features is its stone bridges. There are 49 in all linking the many sections of the town, with each bridge having its own name and often also displaying a distinct design. Many also boast fascinating stories, sometimes going back centuries.
The layout of the town and the residences along both banks retain the traditional style.The buildings of the Ming and Qing Dynasties account for almost 40% of all buildings in the town. Many of them are large residences, and the largest has 9 rows of houses. Famous historic sites include "two halls and three bridges".
Jiayin Hall was established in the traditional style although it was built in the 1910's. It was where a well-known scholar Liu Yazi lived in his early years. The other is Jiaben Hall, built in the Late Qing Dynasty. Both halls have 4 rows and 3 bays. On the beams are fine carvings. Over a winding river near the two halls are three ancient bridges named "Peace", "Luck" and "Glory" in an arch or flat shape.