The past is alive in Pingyao. Whereas other cities have embraced modernity often at the expense of their historical heritage, Pingyao tenaciously holds onto its past.
When dawn breaks and the morning sun bathes Pingyao’s gray city walls in warm tones, you find yourself flung back as your eyes behold a Ming dynasty fortress in all its imposing glory. Watchtowers, cast iron cannons, intimidating wooden gates and sturdy walls impart a sense of invulnerability to the scene. And then the city wakes up. Narrow alleys that coil around time honored courtyard homes fill up with its 480,000 denizens. Shops open their doors to reveal modern cash registers perched on antique tabletops. Bustling about are bicycles rickshaws and scooters. Here in Pingyao modernity lives with centuries old relics.
The old walled city is an architectural treasure trove. Civic buildings, private homes and streets are well preserved in Ming and Qing styles. Few buildings rise above two stories. Several are adorned with splendid eaved roofs, intricately latticed windows, hand painted glass lanterns and ornate wood Such exquisite handiwork didn’t come cheap, but then again, Pingyao was China's premier banking center during the two dynasties. Its wealthy residents were merchants and businessmen who set about constructing sprawling mansions as expertly as they built up their business and trade. Of the many banks in Pingyao, Rishengchang Exchange Shop is the most famous. Originally established in 1643, it still has records of its earliest days in business.
The city is also known as Turtle City．The south and north gates represent a turtle's head and tail, and the four gates on the east and west represent four legs; the two wells just beyond southern gate are the eyes. A web of alleys links the main streets in such a way that even the layout of the town resembles the markings on a turtle shell.
Slipping into the city, you feel as if you're entering the movie set of an elaborate Chinese period drama production. Elegant Ming and Qing architecture line the quaint streets. Like in the good old days, there are no cars in Pingyao’s winding alleys pedestrians and bicycles crowd the lanes and a rickshaw rider scurries Past. You might want to hop on for fun, but going slow on foot can be a visually rewarding feast. The ancient abodes of the commoners are fascinating cultural relics.