Water is the most graceful element in gardens. And bridges over water offer a range of vistas. Their designs can provide a highlight for the overall design. Sometimes a bridge helps divide scenery and sometimes the bridge itself makes a spectacular sight.
No matter what they are-long or short, wood or stone, flat or arching, bridges can help bring harmony to the surrounding.
Gardens in China, imperial and private, mostly consist of a number of scenic areas varying in style. They require an orderly layout to avoid a disorderly or unsystematic appearance. Designers incorporate "planned art" into the garden design.
Entering a Chinese garden, one is struck by an initial reserve, which seems to lure one on. One never sees all at first glance. The entry is gradual.
Chinese gardens usually display small clusters of rocks, walls with differently shaped windows, and pavilions.
An expanse of clear water almost always occupies the centre of this kind of garden, providing brightness and openness, and a sense of leisurely repose.
Bridges may pass over small ponds, streams, big lakes, simple, narrow bridges over flowing water can help to dazzle visitors. Such bridges are usually found in the private gardens in East China's Jiangsu Province.
Gardens may also have more elaborate bridges. They may have exquisitely engraved balustrades that offer a sense of dignity within the overall garden design.
Many Chinese garden designs can be seen in one trip, by going to the Summer Palace in Beijing.
The garden assumed its present approximate size and shape under the reign of Emperor Qianlong (1736-95), the fourth Qing emperor. He reproduced beautiful landscapes he had seen during several tours of southern China.
In addition to pavilions and walkways, many bridges over Kuntning Lake duplicate those on the West Lake in Hangzhou.
A bridge from the stone "boat" at the western end of Longevity Hill takes one to the opposite shore. Here, a Covered Walkway 728 metres long lies at the foot of the hill.
A balustrade of white stone parallels its length and links the hill s scenic points. It unites architectural structures that lie in front of the hill.
The walkway provides views of the hill and the lake, which become especially interesting when rain or snow falls. The intricately carved stone balustrade runs along the lakeshore, casting interesting shadows on the water.
The Kunming Lake occupies three-fourths of the imperial garden. Its surface is unbroken except for a few small islands and one long causeway.
It was modeled after the style of those on West Lake in Hangzhou. Six little bridges cross parts of the lake. Among them, the brightness of the so called Yudai (Jade Belt) Bridge makes it most visible of all. This 200-year-old, white marble bridge has so high an arch that a larger vessel can pass underneath.
On the eastern bank of Kunming Lake is a 17-Arch Bridge, the longest in the garden. Small, sculpted lions in various poses ornament its columns. But many fine bridges can be found outside imperial and private gardens.
One of these is the Five-Pavilion Bridge at Slender West Lake in Yangzhou, Jiangsu Province. Built in 1757, the majestic, limestone bridge has 12 piers supporting 15-arches, and five square pavilions with glazed roofs.
Visitors can enjoy a stunning sight at the time of a full moon, when lunar reflections fall into the waters below each arch.
Bridges, thus, are often works of art apart from their supplementary roles in gardens. They can range from covered bridges to arched stone bridges to zigzagging bridges. They often add a special charm to a landscape.
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