Mount Beigu is one of three rocky hills, traditionally known as the "Three Hills of the Capital's Gateway", that rise up alongside the banks of the Yangtze River near the city of Zhenjiang: Mount Jin (aka Golden Mountain), which lies slightly northwest of the city; Mount Beigu, which lies on the northeastern fringe of the city; and Mount Jiao, which lies east of Zhenjiang.
Mount Beigu has a history that stretches back to the Three Kingdoms (CE 220-265) period. The mountain, lying closest to Zhenjiang and the only of the three hills that lies on the southern bank of the river, has been praised for the magnificent views it offers of the surrounding terrain, as a famous stele on Mount Beigu bears witness with the words, "The First Landscape Under Heaven", which words are attributed first to King Zhaolie Di (aka Liu Bei) of the Shu (CE 221-263) Kingdom, then, centuries later, to King Wu Di (aka Xiao Yan) of the Liang (CE 502-556) Dynasty of the Southern Dynasties (CE 420-588) period, itself part of the Southern and Northern (CE 386-588) Dynasties period.
The expression, "Three Hills of the Capital's Gateway", suggests that these three hills were the three most important defensive positions protecting the capital of the Wu (CE 222-280) Kingdom (of the aforementioned Three Kingdoms period), which was the city of Jianye (present-day Nanjing), lying less than 50 kilometers, as the crow flies, due west of Zhenjiang, also along the southern banks of the Yangtze River. Moreover, an alternative interpretation of the above praise of Mount Beigu attributed to Liu Bei reads as follows: "The First Hill of the Empire" (my emphasis), which not only fits better with the 'Three Hills of the Capital Gateway' military-defensive characterization of these three hills, but also accords with the military reality that the three kings of the breakaway three "southern" kingdoms faced, as will be seen below (the capital of the Shu Kingdom was Chengdu, in Sichuan Province, while the capital of the Wei Kingdom was Luoyang, in Henan Province).
Numerous writers as well as a number of emperors have since praised Mount Beigu for the unparalleled views it offers of the surrounding terrain, one of which personnages is recorded as having claimed that Mount Beigu is the "Best Hill in the World above a River". From a military-defensive standpoint, Mount Beigu, with its sheer cliff facing the Yangtze River, offers an equally unparalleled vantage point for fending off would-be attackers. It is of course no accident that the city of Zhenjiang was founded on the southern bank of the Yangtze River "behind" Mount Beigu (assuming that an attack would be mounted from boats ascending the Yangtze), rather than on the more exposed northern bank of the Yangtze River.
Mount Beigu has three peaks - a front, a rear and a middle peak - of which the rear peak is the highest and therefore offers the best views of Zhenjiang as well as of the surrounding countryside, including an impressive view of the mighty Yangtze river that flows past the mountain's cliff face. Ganlu Temple was erected during the final years of the reign (CE 222-252) of King Da Di of the Wu Kingdom, not originally as a temple, but as a small palace whose raison d'être was to serve as the marriage venue between the sister of King Da Di (King Da Di's birth name was Sun Quan) and King Zhaolie Di (i.e., Liu Bei) of the Shu (CE 221-263) Kingdom, a marriage whose ostensible purpose was to strengthen the crumbling alliance between these two states against the then common enemy, the Wei (CE 220-265) Kingdom.
Note that Liu Bei and Sun Quan had earlier enjoyed close cooperation when the two had joined forces to check the hegemonistic ambitions of the northern warlord, Cao Cao, at the decisive Battle of Red Cliffs during the winter of CE 208-209, thus preventing Cao Cao from reconsolidating the Eastern Han (CE 25-220) Dynasty, which tactical move led directly to the breakaway three kingdoms of Shu, Wu and Wei, which among them controlled the entire Yangtze River Delta.
However, Liu Bei had recently annexed a part of the Wu Kingdom (the city of Jingzhou and its environs, known today as the city of Jiangling, Hubei Province), therefore Sun Quan's ulterior motive with the marriage arrangement was simply to lure Liu Bei to Zhenjiang where he would be captured and held prisoner until the order was given to return the territory that Liu Bei had "expropriated" from Sun Quan. Unfortunately for Sun Quan, the plot was uncovered in advance, with the result that not only did Sun Quan forfeit Jingzhou and its environs to Liu Bei, he also "forfeited" his sister, who was married to Liu Bei in the palace that would later become Ganlu Temple, and without the slightest drama.
Worse, the advantage that the Shu Kindom had thus gained over the Wu Kingdom eventually led to open hostilities between the two states, in which the Wu Kingdom suffered even greater losses, though, in the end, it was the Wu Kingdom that survived longest, but only technically speaking. The Wei Kingdom succeeded in defeating and annexing the Shu Kingdom, but soon after this, an upstart overthrew the King of Wei and established the Jin (CE 265-420) Dynasty. The Wu Kingdom continued to exist parallel to the much stronger Jin Dynasty for a further 15 years, but was in steady decline due to the cruel rule of the last Wu king, Sun Hao, who instilled such fear in his subjects that when the last competent Wu general died, there was no one of equal competence to take his place, and the Wu Kingdom thus became easy prey for the ascending Jin Dynasty.
Though the dissolution of the three kingdoms of the Three Kingdoms period described immediately above is historically accurate, how much accuracy can be attributed to the tale involving the above-described marriage between Sun Quan's sister and Liu Bei is questionable, since fiction seems to have become woven together with fact in this instance due to the influence of the famous novel of the period, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, by the 14th century writer, Luo Guanzhong, whose famous work (it is still wildly famous, inspiring even video games) was what one today would call a historical novel, i.e., part fact, part fiction.
The presumed palace cum temple, Ganlu ("Sweet Dew", though often referred to as "Nectar") Temple, still stands atop Mount Beigu's highest peak, and alongside it stands Xiangyun (alternatively, Lingyun) Ting ("Soaring Clouds" Pavilion). Also atop Mount Beigu stands Tie Ta ("Iron Pagoda", or "Iron Tower"), though it has lost four of its original nine storeys. Other noteworthy sites on Mount Beigu to be detailed below include: Duojing Lou ("Panorama Pavilion"), located in the garden behind Ganlu Temple and said to be the best vantage point from which to view the surrounding terrain; and a stone stele bearing a replica of the famous words of praise of Mount Beigu ascribed to Liu Bei, King of Shu: "The First Landscape Under Heaven".
A Brief Description of the Highlights of Mount Beigu
The Iron Pagoda
Tie Ta, or the Iron Pagoda, is the main cultural-historical site on Mount Beigu. It is located beside Qinghui Pavilion. Built in the first year of the Yuanfeng Reign (CE 1078-1085) of Emperor Shenzong of the Northern Song (CE 960-1127) Dynasty, the Iron Pagoda has a history that harks back more than nine hundred years. The famous pagoda was originally a nine-storeyed building. However, the upper seven storeys were destroyed in a flood during the Ming (CE 1368-1644) Dynasty reign (CE 1572-1620) of the Wanli Emperor. When the pagoda was later renovated, it was transformed into a seven-storeyed building. Alas, during the Qing (CE 1644-1911) Dynasty reign (CE 1875-1908) of the Guangxu Emperor, the upper part of the pagoda, namely, the upper five storeys, was again ruined, this time due to lightning, and the pagoda was not restored until after the Communist Revolution in the middle of the 20th century.
After the emergence of the PRC, the local government of Zhenjiang assigned great importance to the renovation of the ancient pagoda, albeit, an additional two storeys were sacrificed, such that the present-day pagoda, which deliberately preserves the Ming Dynasty style of its upper storeys, has retained only five of the original nine storeys. However, there is a silver lining of sorts here, for during the extensive post-revolution restoration of the pagoda, a number of cultural relics were excavated from the pagoda's base, including a golden coffin, a silver outer coffin, the earthly remains (ashes) of various monks, and a number of large, carved stones bearing the name of a certain Li Deyu.
Further research has established that there existed an older stone pagoda on the site of the Northern Song Iron Pagoda. More specifically, it was established that the stone pagoda originally built on the site was erected in the second year (CE 825) of the Baoli reign (CE 824-826) of Emperor Jing Zong of the Tang (CE 618-907) Dynasty, on the behest of the then chancellor (aka prime minister), Li Deyu, and that the pagoda was completely destroyed during the Qianfu reign (CE 874-879) of Emperor Xi Zong, also of the Tang Dynasty.
The Panorama Pavilion
The Panorama Pavilion is located behind the Nectar Temple, facing north toward the Yangtze River. It is built in the traditional Chinese style with painted beams and upturned eaves (aka "flying eaves"), but, breaking with tradition, with numerous windows offering in all a 360 degree view, in keeping with the notion of "many views hanging on the window", which is a line ascribed to a poem that the aforementioned Tang Dynasty chancellor, Li Deyu, had written about another pavilion elsewhere. Panorama Pavilion achieves its status as the best venue on Mount Beigu for observing the surrounding terrain not by its height - for it is only two storeys high - but by its vantage point (its particular location on the mountain's highest peak) and by its many windows on all sides of the pavilion.
If Mount Beigu has been celebrated as "The First Landscape Under Heaven", then Panorama Pavilion has been celebrated as "The First Pavilion Under Heaven". This latter line, from the hand of the famous Northern Song Dynasty painter and calligrapher, Mi Fu, once adorned the entrance to Panorama Pavilion in the form of a stele. A stele bearing this inscription, though perhaps a copy, still adorns the entrance to Panorama Pavilion. Mi Fu also wrote a long ode - originally as a handscroll, now remounted in album form (15 leaves) as a museum piece (but probably available as a copy from specialist art shops and bookstores... to get an idea of how much money you should carry with you should you go shopping for a Mi Fu reprint, click here) - in honor of Panorama Pavilion.
The poem consists of only 2-3 characters per column - in all, 41 columns - and are applied to the paper (think: calligraphy) as fist-sized characters. This calligraphic masterpiece of a poem is ranked as the best of Mi Fu's large-size, running-script calligraphy, and bears seals by Song, Ming, Qing and modern-era collectors as well as the seal of the Royal House of Qing.
Panorama Pavilion is known by at least two other names, both related to the wedding ceremony at Ganlu Temple between Liu Bei and the sister of Sun Quan, whose authenticity (the wedding ceremony's) remains dubious: Xiangxu ("Getting a Look at the Prospective Son-in-Law") Pavilion; and Ban ("Dressing Up") Pavilion; the former a reference to Wu Gotai, the mother of Sun Quan (and thus the mother of the bride), and the latter a reference to the bride herself, who, it is claimed, changed into her wedding gown in Panorama Pavilion.
The 'Pure Land in Nanxu' Stele
There is a stone stele, referred to as the 'Pure Land in Nanxu' stele ("Pure Land" being a reference to Pure Land Buddhism, aka Amidism, a wide-embracing branch of Mahayana Buddhism; and "Nanxu" being a reference to the ancient, Southern Dynasties name for Zhenjiang, traditionally written as two words: Nan Xu, meaning "Rising Sun of the South"), that is embedded into the wall of Ganlu Temple on which are etched the calligraphic characters "The First Landscape Under Heaven", the aforementioned line that was ascribed to Liu Bei upon the Shu king's first sight of the surrounding terrain from the view afforded by Mount Beigu (it is claimed that this visit coincided with the occasion of Liu Bei's impending marriage to the sister of Sun Quan, at which the former was to be kidnapped by the latter, which plot was apparently foiled).
During the Song (CE 960-1279) Dynasty, the renowned calligrapher, Wu Ju (alternatively, Wu Chu), retranscribed this famous line on paper (to get an idea of how much money a Wu Chu reprint will set you back, click here). Much later, during the reign (CE 1661-1722) of Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty, the characters were literally carved in stone - which became a stone stele - by an unknown artist at the behest of the then comptroller-general of Zhenjiang Prefecture, Cheng Kangzhuang, who had the stone stele embedded in the wall of the corridor of Ganlu Temple, thus immortalizing the famous line originally ascribed to one of the heroes of the Battle of Red Cliffs, Liu Bei.