Xujiashan Stone Village is located in Ninghai County, southeast China's Zhejiang Province. Its nickname of "Stone Village" was given because most of the houses and roads in Xujiashan village were built with the basalt quarried from the area. Every year, thousands of tourists visit the stone village for its unique style and culture.
Xujiashan village has been both lucky and unlucky. It is located in a remote area in Ninghai. A mountainous county in East China's Zhejiang province, Xujiashan used to be one of the least developed villages in the area. While people in other villages had left their traditional stone houses and moved into concrete apartments, Xujiashan residents were too poor to make the change.
Because of its poverty, Xujiashan became one of few villages in Ninghai to retain its traditional way of life. This helped turn it into a famous tourist destination.
In 2003, when the local tourism administration launched a survey on tourism resources, people realized that the small village, home to 720 people, had the most well-preserved stone houses in the province.
Basalt rock, a common building material in the 700-year-old village, is also called "copper rock" by the locals. Reason being its bronze color and the metal sound it gives out when people knock on them. There are more than 270 houses in the village. Many of which are older than 100 years and are made with the material.
With modern running water systems, the village no longer needed the ponds as a water source. Lotus flowers now abound in them and occasionally, villagers wash clothes in the water. The sound of them rinsing and wringing their laundry can be heard far away in the quiet village.
To build the houses, the rocks were piled up without concrete or plaster. The structures are ideally placed to avoid the humid summer weather in South China. Summer breezes waft through the walls keeping the structures cool.
I have been living in a stone house since I was born," said Ye Hongmei, an 85-year-old villager. "There's always fresh air in my home. It is cool in summer and warm in winter."
Windows in the village are also made with stones. People carved different patterns of openings on stone tablets and embedded them into the walls. Stone slabs are laid along alleys as chairs. The edges of the slabs are smooth and polished after hundreds of years of rubbing and sitting. Locals believe good luck and wealth can rub off the rocks.
An ancestral hall lies at the center of the village. During the Song Dynasty (960-1279), a family surnamed Ye escaped to Xujiashan to avoid war. Gradually the place grew into a village. The ancestor of the Ye, Ye Mengding, was a prime minister in the Song Dynasty. His memorial tablet is still set in the hall and worshipped by villagers.
Opposite the ancestral hall lies a stage where people perform folk opera during festivals. It acts as the most important place for villagers' social life.
In 2012, the Ministry of Culture launched a survey on ancient villages in China. Xujiashan and 645 other villages were listed as the first group of "China's traditional villages", with their original architectural styles and rich culture heritage.
When women get married in Xujiashan, their parents would make their daughters a banquet of 12 dishes. Each dish has a propitious name. It is believed this brings luck and happiness to the brides and their new families.
A dish of fried bamboo shoots is called "being outstanding", as the shoots push through the earth and stand alone. A dish of braised pork is called "being prosperous", as the cooked pork's color is red. This is a symbol of wealth and luck.
The tradition first started as a celebration after the harvest season. It gradually became used in weddings. All the ingredients are organic and come straight from the local families' backyards. With more tourists streaming into the area, villagers started to provide the banquet on ordinary days at about 300 yuan. This is less than $50.
Visitors can enjoy the meal in the stone houses and get a taste of the traditional way of life. Visit the village as soon as possible, before modern restaurants and hotels change the original beauty of the place.
Xujiashan and Qiantong are just two of the ancient mountainous villages with rich cultural heritage in Ninghai County, Zhejiang province.
Xujiashan Stone Village is currently under the protection of local government.