As the provincial capital of Jiangsu and a mere hour away by train, the cosmopolitan city of Nanjing was high on our return trip agenda. One of the surprises of our first trip was our discovery of Purple Mountain and the range of interesting locations spread across it. This made the decision to spend another day exploring it an easy one for us.
Sun Yat-Sen Mausoleum
Dr Sun Yat-Sen is recognised by many Chinese as the father of modern China, having played an important role in the transition from Imperial China to the Republic of China. Upon his death in Beijing in 1925, the government honoured his request to be buried in Nanjing, then the capital city of the Republic of China.
The Mausoleum sits on the side of the Purple Mountain and is built in a style that mirrors the tomb of the first Ming Emperor we saw on our first visit to Nanjing. Its impressive architecture reflects Chinese & Western cultural influences, said – according to the information boards in English around the site – to reflect Sun’s outlook.
The crypt itself is sealed although you can see a marble statue of Sun sitting in the front of it. To get there though, you first have to climb a picturesque but steep 392 step staircase – a hard slog at any time, especially in the heat and humidity we experienced.
As a free attraction in this beautiful area of Nanjing, we found it to be a great way to spend the morning. Be prepared for lots of Chinese tourists with a sprinkling of Westerners thrown in for good measure. It’s a fair trek to the base of the Mausoleum complex from Muxuyuan metro station but it’s worth it: if the trek puts you off there is a ¥5 road train shuttle to take you up available.
Purple Mountain Ropeway
Purple Mountain is said to boast the longest single ropeway chair lift in China to carry you up to the peak of 448 m following a 2.5 km route. At a cost of ¥60 each for the return trip to the top, we found it to be really worth it as the views offered as you dangled in midair on the ascent and descent were unparalleled. As my first time in a chairlift of this type, I for one am not going to forget it in a hurry!
The chairlift continued to climb without interruption and the lack of an engine nearby meant that the ride was smooth, calm and quiet throughout. The view covered both Purple Mountain itself and the city of Nanjing laid out below – it was even possible to see parts of the famous Nanjing city walls.
At the top of the peak there is a sculpture garden containing a laughing Buddha statue and various other art forms. Take a short walk past the cafes (conveniently located there) and you will reach the highest point with views down across Nanjing from a rocky outcrop.
Purple Mountain Observatory
Located a 5-minute walk from the mid-point station of the ropeway, the Purple Mountain Observatory is a working scientific research station that has been at the forefront of Chinese astronomical research for hundreds of years.
Its position on Purple Mountain provides a prime site for six different optical telescopes to take pictures of space after dark. Physicists working on this site have been credited with the discovery of a number of celestial objects including comets and asteroids. During the day the site is unused so doubles as a museum for the physics-minded or science-interested to learn more about their work.
Whilst reasonable at ¥15 each to enter, this site is probably not for the general tourist as many of the exhibitions include little English translations (although the ones that do are very good). One of the highlights however is the display of ancient Chinese instruments outside the exhibition halls. These include the Armillary Sphere, used by Chinese astronomers hundreds of years ago to define our understanding of the world beyond the Earth. Despite being hundreds of years old, this instrument has a scale with 365.25 divisions, reflecting the Chinese discovery of the length of an Earth year long before anyone in the West. The instrument on display was actually stolen on the western invasion of Beijing in the early 20th century before being returned decades later and relocated to this Nanjing facility.