Ancient city discovered underneath Hangzhou

Wu Huixin
The ancient Yijin City excavated in Hangzhou's Lin'an District was shortlisted in the top 10 archeological discoveries in China last year.
Wu Huixin

The ancient Yijin City excavated in Hangzhou’s Lin’an District was shortlisted in the top 10 archeological discoveries in China last year following a rigorous debate among professionals, experts and project leaders in Beijing.

Buried underground for centuries, the ancient city finally saw the light of day thanks to the Zhejiang Archeology Institute.

Yijin City was discovered in 2017 when Lin’an government was building a parking lot inside the government compound. During construction, an ancient architectural foundation was unearthed, with century-old bricks, porcelain, artifacts and coins.

Ancient city discovered underneath Hangzhou
Ma Li / Ti Gong

During the construction of a parking lot in Lin’an District, an ancient architectural foundation was unearthed thanks to the Zhejiang Archeology Institute. 

After months of research, the foundation was identified as a relic belonging to the Wuyue Kingdom (AD 907-978) which reigned during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period (AD 907-979).

The Wuyue’s territory once spread across present-day Zhejiang Province, Shanghai, the southeastern part of Jiangsu Province, including Suzhou, and the northeastern part of Fujian Province.

Archeologists consider it an important site, because its location is near the graveyard of Qian Liu (AD 852-932), the first king of Wuyue, and the thoroughfares of the original Lin’an City.

The scale of all the unearthed relics testifies the importance. Bricks were engraved with the Chinese character guan (官) which means they were used only for courts or other official buildings.

Ancient city discovered underneath Hangzhou
Ma Li / Ti Gong

Extensive foundations pointing to the complexity of Yijin’s city design have been unearthed.

However, the occupiers of these buildings were disputed. Some archeologists believed they belonged to the imperial court, while others thought it was part of ancient Yijin City.

Local authorities have continued to explore the land surrounding the government compound. In 2019, a new discovery was made near Chengnan Primary School in Lin’an, and archeologists were immediately summoned.

The excavation lasted through 2020, with discoveries of a variety of relics and antiques. One was an unearthed city wall measuring 149 meters in length and 8.23 meters in width. In the middle of the wall is the door to the city with 17.4 meters long and 10.5 meters wide.

In addition, archeologists unearthed three streets, building foundations, wells and drainage pipes, indicating that the city was designed with a well-ordered layout and perfect drainage system.

Ancient city discovered underneath Hangzhou
Ma Li / Ti Gong

A relic of the drainage system of the Wuyue Kingdom indicates that the city was designed with a well-ordered layout and perfect drainage system.

After conducting more research, Zhejiang Archeology Institute verified the new discovery and the relics inside the government compound were part of Yijin City.

Yijin was a vital city for the Wuyue Kingdom. Emperor Qian Liu built it with military, administrative and ritual functions. The institute has discovered more relics that point to the existence of Yijin City, including imperial mausoleums and temples used for royal rituals.

The Wuyue Kingdom was established in the valley plain of the Tiaoxi and Jinxi rivers, and Yijin is believed to be the center of the kingdom. It laid the foundation for the present-day Lin’an District where there is a street named after the ancient city.

According to historical archives, Qian established the Wuyue Kingdom and kept the area peaceful at a time when a large part of China was in turmoil.

Ancient city discovered underneath Hangzhou
Ma Li / Ti Gong

A tile used in the construction of Yijin City was discovered. 

While the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) established its imperial power in northern China, the Wuyue Kingdom thrived in southern China. Usually such powers would wage war against one another. However, the Wuyue peacefully paid allegiance to the Northern Song Dynasty, as Qian didn’t want people to die needlessly.

Qian and his successors built a hydraulic infrastructure and encouraged the development of local farming. They helped people cope with the roaring waves on the Qiantang River and eventually built their own “Great Wall” between the river and the city.

Buddhism and ceramic craftsmanship boomed during that period. Last year, archeologists discovered a variety of celadon from Yijin City, emblematic of the fine porcelain craftsmanship during the period.

The ancient Yue Kiln in Zhejiang Province was the main celadon manufacturing center throughout the history, and its peak of productivity came during the Wuyue Kingdom period. Connoisseurs consider celadon from this period to be among the best ever produced.

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