Lijiang Old Town, which is perfectly adapted to the uneven topography of this key commercial and strategic site, has retained a historic townscape of high quality and authenticity. Its architecture is noteworthy for the blending of elements from several cultures that have come together over many centuries. Lijiang also possesses an ancient water-supply system of great complexity and ingenuity that still functions effectively today.
As its center there is a square. It was first built in 1126 in the late Song Dynasty and in 1253 Kublai (the first emperor of the Yuan Dynasty) was stationed here on his march into the south. Lijiang is world renowned as an ancient town built in a simple and artistic style and scientifically laid out. It was listed as a national historical and cultural city in 1986.
Lijiang is surrounded by Lion Mountain in the west and by Elephant and Golden Row Mountains in the north. These mountains in the northwest shelter it from the cold wind. In the southeast there are fertile fields, which are dozens of kilometers long. Lijiang is favored with plentiful sunlight, an east wind and clear spring water, which flows in three streams and reaches every family. The streets are paved with the local stone slabs, which do not get muddy in the rainy season and are free of dust in the dry season. Many stone bridges and arches in the city were built during the Ming and Qing Dynasties and orderly roads and lanes extend to four directions from the central square. Residential houses are made of timber; most have a screen wall in front and some have a quadruple courtyard, in which local people plant many flowers.
The ancient traditional culture of the Naxi ethnic group is the Dongba culture, which is based on the Dongba Religion. Believers practice witchcraft, are skilled in medicine and the culture is passed on through literature and art.
The Dongba language has more than 1,300 separate words, which are written in primitive pictographic characters. There are more than 1,400 types of Dongba scriptures written in these characters and they take up 20,000 volumes. The scriptures cover religion, philosophy, history, local customs, literature, art, astronomy, medicine, the calendar, geography, flora, fauna, dancing, painting and music.