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The Bund

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../images/tuku/The Bund
../images/tuku/The Bund
../images/tuku/The Bund

Of all the sights evocative of the splendor and decadence of old Shanghai, none is singularly more impressive than the Bund. Getting its name from an Anglo-Indian word meaning "muddy embankment," the Bund rolls down a million dollar mile along the west bank of Shanghai's most essential waterway, the Huangpu River. It's on this swampy riverbank where Shanghai's previous (heads of trading houses) erected these monuments of wealth. The Bund still remains Shanghai's number one tourist site and with all the things to see in Shanghai, this is the one that can't be missed. Running the length of the Bund is Zhongshan East Road, a major thoroughfare that can be crossed by tunnels or pedestrian bridges.

During the 1920's and 30's, the Bund served as the focal point for the thriving city's financial and social life. The great edifices built here held great symbolic importance. When junks and cargo ships reached Shanghai, this promenade along Shanghai's waterfront was the first sight they would see. If any doubted the economic prowess Shanghai enjoyed during those times, the buildings along the Bund quickly disposed of any notions that the city was a pretender. From their windows overlooking the teeming Huangpu, Shanghai's wealthy could watch with baited breath as their cargoes of opium, gold and silver bullion, tea and spices were loaded on and off their ships.

Built of marble and stone, the Bund is emblematic of foreign interest and business anchored in Shanghai's staying power. They also served to assure Shanghai's foreign residents and visitors as to who was in control. By night, away from the brothels and opium dens lining the Bund's auxiliary streets, Shanghai's richest met in the British and French Clubs to quaff whiskey sours while Shanghai's endless night burnt to its wick.

Although things are different now, the buildings of the Bund retain much of their previous grandeur. To prevent flooding from the Huangpu and Suzhou Creek, the promenade was raised from a simple street to an elevated, cement walkway. As one of Shanghai's few free tourist attractions, it's regularly thronged with both domestic and international tourists. Hawkers sell glow sticks and light up toys by night while photographers offer to capture your magic moment backlit by either Pudong's futuristic skyline or the Bund's colonial massif. The best place to view the Bund is from the walkway along the river's edge; from here you can take in the view of the old masterpieces and the new wonders across the river.

Jinmao Tower: Today's Bund is as evocative of Shanghai's yesteryears with hints of the city's tomorrow. The once teeming wharves have been moved further downstream, though the Bund is still a great place to view the Huangpu River's ship traffic. When the foreigners left, control of the buildings was assumed by the state though very few continued to perform their original functions. The Peace Hotel, the AIA Building and the Shanghai Customs House, though no longer holding the eminent prestige of the past, have persisted throughout the march of time. Mon the Bund, one of the city's classiest restaurants serves martinis and haute cuisine while providing stunning views of the Huangpu and Pudong.

The northern end of the Bund begins just south of the Garden Bridge. Despite being north of the bridge, the Park Hotel, the Astor House Hotel and the Russian Consulate are worth visiting. Still sporting a Bayer neon sign at its apex, today's Park Hotel is where pharmaceutical giant Bayer began distilling opium into morphine. On the other side of the street stands the Astor House Hotel, now the Pujiang Hotel, dating back to 1860 and was Shanghai's first hotel. Once the darling of Shanghai and hosting luminaries such as Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russel and Charlie Chaplin, it's now Shanghai's number one backpacker hotel. Directly across the old Astor House stands the Russian Consulate in its austere grey.

A wooden toll bridge, built by an English businessman in 1856, originally crossed the Suzhou Creek along the Bund, but because its arch wasn't high to accommodate the increasing number of ships, it was replaced by the Garden Bridge, an 18m wide free iron bridge built in 1906. Boats still pass under the Garden Bridge because Suzhou Creek remains an important waterway linking Shanghai with inland China.

At the Bund's northern end stands the Monument to the People's Heroes. This granite obelisk, erected in 1993, honors those (post-1949) who fought for the new China and is flanked by walls carved with their names. At its base is the Bund History Museum where visitors can gaze at a collection of photos from Shanghai's old days.

Heading south from the north end of the Bund, one of the first architectural monuments to catch the visitor's eye is the Friendship Store Curios Branch, a branch of the Friendship Store that specializes in art and antiques. Continuing south is the former Banque de l'Indo-Chine. Built in 1914, this classical French building features baroque arches and Greek columns. Next to this building is the stylistically eclectic Glen Line Building. Built in 1922, the Glen Line was once Shanghai's largest German bank.

Today's Shanghai Foreign Trade Bureau is the former home of Jardine Matheson and Co., once the largest and most powerful trading house in Shanghai. Their prominent position on the Bund reflects the importance of this firm; the company was instrumental, both politically and financially in Shanghai's early development and corruption. This massive English Renaissance structure was constructed in 1920 with roman arches, huge blocks of stone and giant pillars.

The Peace Hotel was built in 1929 as the private residence and office of Victor Sassoon. Then known as the Cathay Hotel, it still stands in all its art deco glory at the intersection of Nanjing Road and the Bund as a Shanghai cornerstone. Its green pyramid roof, once Victor Sassoon's penthouse apartment, is illuminated at night and in the Peace Hotel's bar, jazz musicians still jam to the tunes of years gone-by. If you're looking for a building that evokes the Bund's past glamour & suave gentlemen in tuxedos with debutantes preening in their glittering dresses, this is the place to go.

South of the Peace Hotel stands the former Palace Hotel (now the south wing of the Peace Hotel), which sports an eye-catching exterior of red and white brickwork. This stoic building was built in 1906 and features an English-style exterior punctuated with baroque windows. The former Chartered Bank of America, India, and China, featuring Renaissance architecture, was built in 1922. Beside this structure is the former North Daily News Building, which was built in 1921 and is now the AIA Building. These two buildings share the block with the Palace Hotel and are slated for restoration. The next block features the former Russo-Chinese Bank Building. This squat building was built in 1901 and features six carved columns. Also on the same block is the former Bank of Communications Building. Designed with all the modernity of 1940, this streamlined building looks like it came straight out of Batman's Gotham City.

One of the few buildings on the Bund to have changed owners but not purpose is the Shanghai Customs House. Built in 1927 and distinguished by its four colossal Roman granite columns, the customs house is topped with a bell tower and a clock face visible up and down the river, reminding ships that it would soon be time to pay. The bell now rings to "The East is Red," though it's hard to hear it above the noise of the street and boat noise. Designed by G. L. Wilson, the former Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank was the second largest bank in the world when it was completed in 1923 and is still one of the largest buildings on the Bund. It has been extensively restored and the lobby approaches its former 1920's splendor. A Greek dome stands above its exterior columns and archways and is decorated with panels saluting the financial capitals of their day. Many consider this building to be icing on the Bund's architectural cake.

Now the Bangkok Bank and Thai Consulate, the Hospital of the Shanghai Navigation Company, built in 1907, is one of the oldest buildings on the Bund and is next to the even older China Merchants Bank, which was built in 1897 and once served as the British Municipal City Hall. Built in an English Gothic style with baroque pillars, it's one of the more poignant relics of the colonial period, a reminder of the contradiction of Shanghai's past.

South of Guangdong Road stands another of the Bund's most important buildings. The Dong Feng Hotel is the former Shanghai Club, which was built in 1910 and was once the city's most lavish private club. A haunt for British and American bankers and merchants, it was rivaled only by the marble fronted French Club further south down the Bund. The Shanghai Club was once the home to the world-renown black and white granite "Long Bar," measuring over 100 feet and, at the time, the longest in the world.

From here, it's possible to continue south into what was once the French Concession's part of the Bund or cross over Zhongshan East Road to the elevated walkway, from this position you can take in all the buildings you've just visited as they stand facing the Huangpu like giant stone sentinels. At Nanjing Road and the Bund there's a psychedelic tourist tunnel ride to Pudong; be prepared to be perplexed by the short kitschy ride. There are also pedestrian tunnels at Fuzhou Road going underneath Zhongshan East Road towards the banks of the river.