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Stroll in the park, a step back in time
By Wing Tan

FANGTA Park in the northeastern corner of Songjiang District bears witness to almost 900 years of history. Visitors to the park can stroll back in time in a tranquil setting.

During the Tang (AD 618-907) and Song (960-1279) dynasties, the area was a busy commercial hub of what was then Shanghai.

The park takes its name from the landmark fang ta, or the rectangular tower, built in the Song Dynasty and exemplifying Tang architecture - grand and imposing, neat and orderly. The tower has nine levels, rising skyward 42.5 meters.

If you look closely, you can see carvings on the ancient doors and pillars. Many of the roof tiles are originals. The tower is considered one of the best remaining examples of the ancient ornamentation and architecture of southern China.

In front of the town is a zhaobi, or screen wall, used to obtain optimum feng shui. The stonewall at the site, measuring 4.75 meters high and 6.1 meters wide, is embossed with an ancient mythological animal and is regarded as the oldest and most intact large brick relief sculpture in Shanghai.

The animal on the wall features a dragon's head, a lion's tail, a bull's body, a deer's legs and fish scales. It was meant to warn people against the vice of greed. Some locals call the animal Greedy.

The wall was built in 1370 as a screen for the Songjiang Chenghuang Temple and managed to survive Japanese bombing in the early 1930s.

It also escaped damage during the "cultural revolution" (1966-76), when anything old was considered bad and many ancient structures and traditions were demolished.

A few steps away to the north of the tower stands the Tianfei Palace, which was built in 1883. The building was originally located on what is today Henan Road in the heart of downtown Shanghai. The structure was relocated to Songjiang in 1980 to make room for urban development.

The main hall of the palace, covering 330 square meters, is characteristic of the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) in its architectural style, carvings and inscriptions, and broad staircases.

About 100 meters to the south of the tower is the Wangxian Bridge, made of stone and wood in a smooth, perfect arc. It was constructed during the Song Dynasty. The two pillions at either end of the bridge are carved with delicate lotus flowers.

Address: 235 Zhongshan Rd E.

Admission: 25 yuan (US$4)

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