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Built in 1342, the Lion Grove Garden is especially well known for the Taihu rocks that line the labyrinthine paths as they wind their way through the grounds. The garden was first built for the monk Weize by his disciples, and over the years it became both a place for Buddhist teaching and a retreat of sorts for writers and artists. Like so many of Suzhou’s gardens, the Lion Grove Garden has gone through cycles of decay and restoration. Throughout its history, the garden’s roots in Buddhist thought have remained a constant.
The Lion Grove Garden has hosted famous guests at numerous times during its long history, including the emperors Kangxi and Qianlong, who visited the garden several times. They eventually had a garden modeled after it in the Imperial Summer Resort in Chengde, in Hebei Province.
The Lion Grove Garden was from early times a favorite spot of the literati. Many poems and paintings have been inspired by the garden, including the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) paintings “Panoramic View of the Lion Grove Garden” by Ni Yunlin (Ni Zan) and “Twelve Scenic Spots in the Lion Grove Grave” by Xu Ben. The monk Weize’s “Fourteen Poems of the Lion Forest Garden Sceneries” was likewise inspired by views within the garden.
The Lion Grove Garden is designed in a layered structure, creating a feeling that one is surrounded by a range of mountains. The structures built of rocks from Taihu Lake are thought to resemble lions in various poses, and it is after these impressive rock formations that the garden is named.