Gateway to Maritime Silk Road


Port ruins exemplify Wenzhou's sea trade history

BY :丝路云帆

UPDATED :November 10, 2022


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Wenzhou, known as Dong'ou in ancient times, is located on the southeast coast of China. The city has been inextricably linked with port, river and sea since its establishment in the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317 AD-420 AD).
As the Maritime Trade Office (Shibo Si) was set up to administrate foreign trade affairs during the Song and Yuan dynasties (960-1368), Wenzhou gradually rose to become an important port city along the ancient Maritime Silk Road.

At the end of 2021, Shuomen Ancient Port ruins were discovered in Wenzhou when archaeological work was conducted for infrastructure construction. The site covers a large area of about 5,000 square meters with abundant historical relics, and consists of an integrated system of city, port and waterways, which is rarely seen both at home and abroad.
Aerial photo taken on October 10, 2022 shows the barbican ruins at the archaeological site of Shuomen Ancient Port in Wenzhou, East China's Zhejiang province. (Photo/Xinhua)

Shuomen Ancient Port was considered as one of the most well-preserved archaeological sites of the ancient Maritime Silk Road ever found in China. It was a great achievement in the country's maritime and urban archaeology in recent years.

After more than half a year, archaeologists excavated barbicans (small towns built outside the city gate), groups of docks and other important remains, which span from the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) to the Republic of China (1912-1949). Among them, a majority of the remains were from the Song and Yuan dynasties.

There were two barbican ruins at the site. One was built during the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1912), rectangular in shape. The other stacked underneath in a semicircle was constructed in the Song and Yuan dynasties.
Ruins of a dock from the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) (Photo via Wenzhou Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology)

Among the ruins of dock clusters which stretch 380 meters long, archaeologists found the river levees and sloping piers from the Northern Song Dynasty, the riverbanks, bridges and water gates from the Southern Song Dynasty, and dams and stepped dock paths from the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. These facilities demonstrated the changes of coastlines over the past centuries.
Other discoveries included brick paved roads, plank roads, stilt-style architecture, wells, and ash pits.

Two shipwrecks with relatively clear structures were major findings at the site. One was a 20-meter-long Fujian ocean-going junk from the Southern Song Dynasty. The other was from the Northern Song Dynasty, which has not been fully excavated.
A shipwreck from the Southern Song Dynasty (Photo via Wenzhou Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology)

A wealth of porcelain pieces were also notable among the unearthed relics, more than 90% of which were made from the Longquan Kiln during the Song and Yuan dynasties. The kiln in the southwest part of Zhejiang was famous for producing the best celadon which was generally for export at that time.  
This indicated that Chinese commodities as represented by the Longquan porcelain had been sold to other parts of the world from Wenzhou by sea in ancient times. The relics provided solid evidence that Wenzhou has been a millennial commercial port which played a significant role in trade along the ancient Maritime Silk Road.
Photo shows porcelain wares recovered at the archaeological site of Shuomen Ancient Port in Wenzhou. (Wenzhou Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology/Handout via Xinhua)

For now, the first stage of field excavation of Shuomen Ancient Port has basically finished. Local authorities are working out plans for site protection, archaeological site park construction and application for incorporating the site onto the list of World Cultural Heritages along the Maritime Silk Road.
Sources: 新华网、中国新闻网、温州发布
Editors: Pauline, Joyce