Marco Polo Bridge 卢沟桥

丰台区西五环
Part of A Better Guide to Běijīng’s coverage of Běijīng Suburbs and Beyond

Lúgōu Qiáo means ‘Reed Ditch Bridge’, but it gained its English name a mention in Marco Polo’s Travels. It was originally built between 1189 and 1194, and was thoroughly restored after being partially washed away in 1698.

Two imperial stelae under stone canopies carved with dragons stand at either end of the bridge, accompanied by two hòu-topped huábiǎo (see Palace Museum). One stele celebrates the rebuilding, and the other, in the calligraphy of the Qiánlóng emperor (reigned 1736–96), celebrates the bridge’s beauty with the characters 卢沟晓月 (Lúgōu xiǎo yuè) —‘moon at dawn over Lúgōu’ — one of a traditional list of the eight most scenic spots of the region, all of which have Qiánlóng stelae.

The 11-arched white marble bridge has balustrades down either side, each upright topped with lions that appear to be individual. Local tradition has it that attempting to count the lions will drive you mad. Polo has 1200 (but he has them at the base of the uprights as well as at the top, and he’s wrong about that). Modern guide books give numbers varying between 140 and 501, although there seem to be 120, so perhaps the tradition is right (in which case 120 is wrong, and this writer is a lunatic, too).

One of the pleasures of the bridge is that since it is constructed from stone, despite restoration it remains far more the genuine article than most of the frequently incinerated wooden structures that make up the majority of China’s historic sites. Although the paving slabs of the now pedestrianised bridge have been replaced, a strip of the original down the middle has the same foot-worn rounded surfaces as the steps to the crypt of a medieval cathedral.

Attempts to develop the site to make it more attractive to tourism have brought small exhibition halls of little merit, some landscaping, a sculpture park, and a collection of modern drum stones with an anti-war message.

Lúgōu Qiáo, Fēngtái District, SW of centre, just inside Fifth Ring Road, gps 39º50’58”N, 116º12’56”E, t 8389 6637, www.lugouqiao.org.cn, 7am–6pm, 15 Apr–31 Oct; else 5pm . ¥20. m Wǎnpíng Chéng (Line 16). b to 卢沟新桥: 309, 329, 339, 339区间, 458 (from m Běijīng South Railway Station, north side), 459, 624, 661, 662, 952, 952区间, 979.

The little walled town of Wǎnpíng, just at the east end of the bridge, contains one of Běijīng’s several anti-Japanese museums, The Museum of the Chinese People’s Anti-Japanese War.

Next in Museums and Other Sights: Was Polo Here?
Previously: Central Academy of Fine Arts Gallery
Main Index of A Better Guide to Beijing.

For discussion of China travel, see The Oriental-List.