The Grand Canal of China is a collection of canal systems that not only ran north-south, carrying grain to the capital of Beijing but also westward to the heart of China and the ancient capital of Luoyang in what is now Henan Province.
The region in the Yellow River valley and North China Plains is considered one of the cradles of Chinese civilization, the heart of ancient China, and Luoyang was one of its most magnificent cites on what is known as the Sui-Tang Grand Canal.
It was the capital of the Sui (AD 581-618) and Tang (AD 618-907) dynasties and considered one of the four great ancient capitals of China. Digging a key canal section began in Luoyang in AD 605, and the canal stretched both north to Beijing and south to Hangzhou.
Though the region is flat, digging and maintaining the canal was difficult because of frequent devastating floods of the Yellow and other rivers and massive amounts of fine-grained loess or silt that built up and raised the level of river and canal beds.
Construction required extensive stone work to shore up the banks and dredging to keep the canals clear. Henan also has three other river systems that were part of the canal system in the region.
Much of the canal today is buried, though excavations have taken place and construction projects are planned to reconstruct portions of the canal and turn ancient granaries into theme parks. The vast imperial granaries in Luoyang stored grain grown in southern China as well as grain collected as grain tax.
If the Sui-Tang Canal was the blood vessel that connected north with south, then Luoyang was the heart that pumped in the very center and the Luohe River (洛河) running through the city was the main artery.
Today, the canal riverbank has been landscaped into a park where people can stroll along the river after dinner or exercise in the morning.
In 1996, the Luoyang government invested heavily in Luopu Park (洛浦公园). Before that, the river area was choked with silt and wild grass grew everywhere.
Now the 10-kilometer-long scenic zone is one of the best canal parks in China. Pavilions, statues and memorials showcase the city's rich culture.
But that's just the beginning. Luoyang is now undertaking a huge project to further excavate two enormous granaries and other canal structures, turn the warehouses into exhibition halls and create an archeology theme park in the granary area.
It also plans to build the Luoyang Grand Canal Museum. Construction is to begin in January and the first phase is scheduled to be completed in July or August, according to the Grand Canal of China's World Heritage Bidding Office in Luoyang.
The Sui-Tang Grand Canal started in Luoyang. In AD 605, Emperor Yang of the Sui Dynasty gave the order to start digging the canal in Luoyang.
The canal reached Zhuojun (now Zhuozhou, Hebei Province) in the north and Yuhang (now Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province) in the south, connecting the Hai, Huai, Yellow, Yangtze and Qiantang rivers.
The canal greatly facilitated transport and was considered by some to be China's second miracle of engineering after the Great Wall.
The operation of the canal consolidated Luoyang's position in Chinese history.
Two sections of the Sui-Tang Grand Canal run through Henan Province, the southern part of the Yongji Canal and northern part of the Tongji Canal. It passes through eight cities - Zhengzhou (now the capital of Henan), Kaifeng, Luoyang, Shangqiu, Anyang, Hebi, Xinxiang and Jiaozuo.
But for a long time, this part of the canal was mostly dried up, destroyed or buried in the silt from the frequent flooding of the Yellow River, which also changed course.
Today, very little exists. What little does remain are either above-ground ruins or buried bridges, docks and granaries, some of which have been excavated. Now farmers plow much the land above silted canal beds.
Since China is seeking UNESCO World Cultural Heritage status for the entire Grand Canal of China, including this western section in Henan, the province has been investing in protection, preservation and reconstruction.
Luoyang was the first city in Henan to begin protection and preservation of the Sui-Tang Grand Canal.
Huiluocang Granary (回洛仓)
This vast complex of granaries has been partly excavated in farmland. It was a typical Sui-Tang Grand Canal granary. Built in the Sui Dynasty and destroyed in wars, it wasn't in use for very long time.