A signature of Asian architecture, the pagoda is a tower structure characterized by tiered levels of equal or slowly-declining width. And while the tradition of the pagoda structure seems to have originated in China, it is actually an extension of the stupa – an architectural representation of Mount Meru, the cosmic mountain said to represent the structure of the universe in Hindu-Buddhist cosmology.
In the many centuries since its beginnings, the stupa has evolved into a number of forms as Indian civilization and Buddhist religion have spread throughout other regions in Asia. The prang of Khmer and Thai architecture, the candi of Malaysia and Indonesia, as well as the pagoda which spread from China into Japanese and Korean architecture are all regional variations on the concept of the stupa.
There are not an abundant amount of religious sites in the central Chinese city of Chongqing, however, not all modern pagodas take the form of religious towers anymore. Instead, many of their aspects have been moved into architecture for architecture’s sake. And for those willing to look, you can still find a number of both traditional and more modern incarnations of pagodas.
Lijiang Pavillion — Eling Park
One of the most notable features of Chongqing and visible from several surrounding districts is the monument standing over Eling Park. While not a pagoda in the traditional sense, its architectural style obviously draws inspiration from the classical Chinese design. For a small fee, anyone can climb the 7 levels to the top and have a panoramic view over all of Yuzhong, Nan’an and Jiangbei districts.
Wen Feng Ta Pagoda — Jiangbei
Perhaps the truest pagoda in the city, the Wenfengta Pagoda is a conspicuous and lonely tower perched atop a small mountain named Tazi Shan on the Yangtze River. Able to be seen from many parts of the city, its visible age and odd location make it appear a lone relic from a time past. It’s also not easy to get to. There is a path leading up the mountain from Chaoyinxinsi, a Guanyin temple at the end of Bei Bin Er Lu, but it is overgrown and littered with construction debris.
Puti Jingang Pagoda — Qixinggang
The Puti Jingang Pagoda is a likely candidate for the most unique such monument in Chongqing. Standing casually in a dense backstreet neighborhood, the Puti Jingang Pagoda takes the form of a more traditional stupa one might find in Indian-influenced areas. Inscribed with Tibetan script as well as an ancestral Chinese script known as Zhuan Ti from the Shang Dynasty, this monument is very uncharacteristic of Chongqing architecture.
Bao-En Pagoda — Nan’an
A short walk from the Shangxin Lu station on line 6, the Bao-en Pagoda both stands out from and seems it belongs among its surroundings. Its rusty color and faded facade feel at home in the deteriorating hill homes, but the sharp and rigid design immediately sets it apart to the onlooker. As you approach the structure, you begin to notice the base is actually set below street level, and a the walls of Juelin Temple spiral down around it leading to, of all things, a driving school.
Chongyun Tower – Chongqing Expo Gardens
When first glimpsing this monument through the grey haze of an average Chongqing day, it seemed very out of place in what appeared an otherwise industrial area. Instead it turned out to be one of the most recognizable structures built for the 8th International Garden Expo. Much of the Park is built to represent differing cultural and geographical aspects of China, and throughout them all, the 7-storey structure is constantly visible in the distance. Up close, it is quite attractive, however it appears to be only for show as there was no indication anyone is allowed in.
Wen Feng Pagoda — Nan’An
Enshrouded high in the trees of Chongqing’s southern mountains, this pagoda is all but impossible to see from the city despite its prominence, height and location. Built in 1851, it dates among the oldest such structures in the city. The pagoda doesn’t seem to be part of any modern temple although the Laojundong temple is visible in the distance. This Wen Feng Ta Pagoda stands near university ground on a nice though confusing hiking trail through the mountain forests.
Bao Lun Temple Pagoda – Ciqikou
Presiding over the what is perhaps the most frequented tourist trap in Chongqing, the Bao Lun Temple is one of the actual authentic historic sites in Chongqing. By legend it was founded by a king forsaken by his kin and left to meditate for years upon years. And while the surrounding Ciqikou Old Town has undergone a number of changes, the Bao Lun Temple seems to have remained largely unchanged over the years, less some recent renovation work.
While not strictly a pagoda, this newly-built Taoist temple includes a tower reminiscent of Chinese pagodas. And indeed, upon first seeing its silhouette in the foggy skyline along with Lijiang Tower, that is what we thought these monuments to be. The temple itself seems to be more for show than active worship. However, its presence makes a nice addition to the western city skyline.
Star Picking Tower – Zhaomushan Botanical Gardens
When at the Fortune Mall in Yubei, it’s hard to miss the Star Picking Tower illuminated over the northern skyline. It tops the mountain of Zhaomushan, a park set aside for hiking in the northern reaches of Chongqing. From what I saw of the park, it seems to have a lot to offer, including a few traditional representational examples of architecture and a number of sites to view the cityscape to the south.
Bijin Park Pagoda – Yubei
Of all the parks I’ve been to in Chongqing, Bijin Park is among the best. Near the airport and also home to the Bayu Cultural Village, the park stands out from most others in the city for its peaceful atmosphere and abundance of sights. Among these sights is the pagoda, a platform that rises up 7 stories and is climbable for only 3 RMB. It gives a great view of the boats working their way through the park’s pond or just a viewing platform for the nearby planes taking off and landing.
Qifo (Seven-Buddha) Pagoda, Huayan Temple
Huayan Temple is one of the genuine historic Buddhist temples still remaining in Chongqing. While its qualities have since been turned to tourist attractions like the giant golden Buddha or the cemented holy cave, the temple now has a dedicated vegetarian restaurant and guest accommodations. The unused Qifo pagoda is built on the artificial surface that makes up the roof of the temple ground’s funerary area.
China Virtue Park Tower – Dadukou
China Virtue Park is an attempt to artificially reconstruct nostalgia in the form of ancient city gates, gardens and a large 4-sided pagoda in what’s ultimately an insignificant part of the city. The park was still in construction when I visited and the pagoda itself was inaccessible, despite being completed. locals were playing mahjong and discarding massive amounts of trash in the area. Given its nature as the most prominent structure in the park, I have a feeling this pagoda will be much more for show and will not be accessible in the future.
Baijusi Pagoda – Dadukou
This pagoda is a bit of an oddity. It’s unique in that it is all wooden and very intricately painted with much detail. It’s visible on a hilltop from across the Yangtze River in the Ban’An downtown area. The fact is this pagoda stands alone in a relatively undeveloped area up a dirt road off the side of an abandoned road. To find it, you must enter a poorly-paved parking lot with a single security shed complete with a couple dogs. Thankfully they were restrained.
Unknown Structure — Dadukou
This tower is easily visible from the Line 2 train through Dadukou. It appears to be a pagoda-themed viewing platform similar to the one in Eling Park. However, I couldn’t find any other information about it. And given its location a significant way from public transport, I haven’t set foot inside the structure yet.