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Gulangyu, the open-air museum that will leave you open-mouthed

(CNTV)    11:12, August 29, 2017

CGTN Photo

It’s only a six- or seven-minute ferry ride from downtown Xiamen in Fujian Province – a mere 700 meters from the sea – but really, it’s more like rewinding a century and disembarking into a daydream.

Ah, the intriguing island of Gulangyu.

Once upon a time, this was the richest square mile in the world – a foreign enclave upon which 13 countries established consulates, missionaries built churches, and ultra-wealthy Chinese returning from overseas with hard-earned fortunes erected a myriad of magnificent manor houses.

One of the many magnificent manor houses on Gulangyu Island. /CGTN Photo

Today, it’s one of the hottest tourist attractions – and, as of July 8, 2017 – it’s a UNESCO-listed world heritage site. The 1.78-square-kilometer landmass is home to around 20,000 people, but it attracts more than 10 million sightseers a year, making it one of the most-visited destinations in China.

But of course, it is. The little emerald speck on the map should be high up on every traveler’s bucket list. Nowhere else on Earth can you witness such a weird but wonderful marriage of East and West, most conspicuous in its remarkable panoply of building styles.

Colonial architecture is seen from the highest point of Gulangyu Island. /CGTN Photo

Think, Corinthian columns, gothic stained glass windows, mosque-like roofs, Oriental embellishments, and mythical Chinese creatures carved into balustrades, eaves, and porticos. And that’s just a fraction. The villas are striking, surreal, almost schizophrenic – a rare potpourri of ostentation, kitsch, and sophistication.

Now, how to make the most of this photogenic buffet?

First, lace up your comfortable walking shoes – there are no wheeled conveyances for your convenience, except a tiny fleet of electric buggies for the lazy or less able.

Then, all you have to do is become deliberately disorientated in Gulangyu Island’s sprawling, serpentine alleyways, gaze up, and gawk.

The rooftops on the island. /CGTN Photo‍

Indeed, Gulangyu Island’s glory days may have dissolved over the decades, but its legend will linger for quite a while longer. So, go on, buy a ferry ticket, and feast your eyes on its grand architectural relics of colonial yesteryear – you won’t be disappointed with this daydream, whether you wake up or not. 

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(Web editor: Du Xiaofei, Bianji)

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