Wanna see something really weird? Go check out these knock-off towns around Shanghai and see what China does best: imitate others.
2 interesting facts about Anting New Town in Jiading, Shanghai’s German knock-off town:
1) It sits near German auto maker Volkswagen’s Shanghai operations.
2) It was designed by the son of Hitler’s favorite architect, Albert Speer Jr.
While Anting was part of the One City Nine Towns plan, it differs from Shanghai’s other clone villages in that it features modern rather than classic architecture. Most of the 50,000 residences are vacant.
Where: Fengcheng, Shanghai
If you want to quixotically tilt at windmills, you needn’t book a flight to Spain. There’s a Spanish town, complete with windmills, right here in Shanghai.
Fengcheng’s Spanish town was constructed as part of Shanghai municipal government’s 2001 One City Nine Towns initiative, which built replica villages in outlying areas to attract residents away from Shanghai's crowded urban center. It didn't work. No one came. Now, these knock-off European towns largely sit empty, giving an eerie feeling of an abandoned movie set. All that's left are knock-off windmills, churches, apartments and shops.
Where: Take Line 7 to Meilan Lake Station
A few things set Loudian, or Little Sweden, apart from China’s other knock-off towns. First off, it’s ancient. Though newer parts of town include a man-made lake modeled after Sweden’s Lake Malaren, the old town dates all the way back to the Yuan dynasty.
Perhaps the biggest distinguishing factor is the simple fact that the city is not deserted. Where did the others go wrong? Perhaps planners just failed to account for how much Chinese people love Sweden, which is evidenced by the daily tide of visitors chowing down on meatballs at Ikea.
Where: Line 8 Pujiang Town Station
Originally envisioned as an Italian metropolis in the Shanghai suburbs, Minhang’s “Breeza Citta di Pujiang” looks more like a 1990s Chicago housing project after getting hit by a Chernobylean disaster.
Though there is some art work. Italian town, is deserted and the buildings include un-Italian, nondescript high-rises despite being designed by an Italian architect. A few scattered villas, a palace and a piazza with a bell-tower constitute the fallout from this pipe dream. Fortunately, the excessive number of bike-share stations make it easy to navigate.
With pubs, chip shops, churches and enough Victorian-style housing to shelter 10,000 people, Thames Town offers a slice of mini England at the very end of Line 9.
The replica was built in 2006 as part of Shanghai’s ambitious One City, Nine Towns project, though nearly a decade later, it’s still deserted save for brides-to-be who’ve deemed the church, cobblestone streets and red phone boxes as essential backdrops for wedding photos.
But even if nuptuals aren't in your cards, kitsch factor alone makes this one worth the trip. You can catch a somewhat deflated changing of the guard, or at the very least you can stroll along the fake Thames River or take selfies next to huge statues of James Bond or Harry Potter.
Where: Huizhou, Guangdong
Forget copying the Eiffel Tower or London Bridge. How about cloning an entire town?
Street by street, house by house, down to the knobs on the doors, and even a replica alpine lake. That’s just what Chinese builders in Huizho have done. Located in Guangdong Province, Hallstatt See is based off Hallstatt, Austria, a 1,000-person idyllic village and UNESCO World Heritage site.
Hallstatt mayor Alexander Scheutz told the Austrian Press Agency that the village attracts about 800,000 tourists annually. And he believes that photographers for China Minmetals meticulously photographed every square inch of Hallstat.
Adorned with cherubs, nymphs and winged horses on either end, the Pont Alexandre III is one of Paris’s most iconic bridges. China’s version spans the Haihe River in Tianjin. Built in the ‘70s, the Bei'an Bridge is considerably less elegant than the Gaelic original, despite shamelessly copying the first bridge’s white masonry and brass statues.
Still, this place is worth a visit for its birds-eye vistas of the rapidly changing waterfront, particularly at night as the waterway lights up in neon. Chances are good you’ll pass by on one Tianjin’s ubiquitous riverboat tours.
Where: Beijing, 15 km drive from Beijing's Capital airport
While most of China’s replica landmarks evoke dioramas of the real thing, Beijing’s Shanzai Château de Maisons-Laffitte expands upon the 17th century original with two extra wings and a sculpture garden.
Named after the millionaire who built it, “Zhang Lafitte” perfectly parrots the French baroque architecture and even features a moat, vineyards and staff garbed in traditional French attire. The designers reportedly took 10,000 photos of the original to make sure every detail was exact. Inside is a hotel, spa and a wine bar, which thankfully doesn’t serve counterfeit Chateau Lafite wine.
Outside Tianjin, the 200,000 square-meter “Florentia Village” replicates many features of Tuscany’s most populous city, including a downsized Piazza San Giovanni. The airpocalyptic smog even makes it look like it did right after Mt. Vesuvius erupted. A faux Coliseum and Venetian canals with Hamburglar shirt-clad gondoliers feel out of place. This mall has four shopping areas with more than 200 global brands.
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