Standing on Huqiu Hill in Suzhou, it is also called Huqiu Pagoda. It has become a landmark of the city.
Construction of the pagoda began in 959 at the end of the Five Dynasties and was completed in 961 at the beginning of the Northern Song Dynasty. More than a thousand years old, it is the earliest, most magnificent and most exquisite pagoda of the Song Dynasty.
An octagonal, seven-storey brick pagoda, 47.5 meters high, it has projecting eaves and balconies at every level. The interior of the pagoda is like a vertical tube with a winding corridor along the inside walls. Each level has floor slabs but no fixed staircases. People climbed to the upper storeys only by movable ladders, a much older method than the built-in stairs in the construction of pagodas. The hallow-tube style of the pagoda represents pre-Tang Dynasty architecture while other methods used in the construction of this pagoda indicate a transitional style between the Tang and Song dynasties.
Huqiu Pagoda, though a brick building, was modeled after wooden structures by using a variety of construction methods. The sculptures and ornaments inside and outside Huqiu Pagoda also merit special attention. For example, the columns along the inside walls of the pagoda are ornamented with carved floral patterns, ornaments usually found on the exterior of a building. Such ornaments are rarely seen on columns of other pagodas but were quite common in grottoes before the Tang Dynasty. The columns along the inner side of the corridors in the pagoda are embellished with a variety of floral patterns, such as peony, and lake rockery. They are among the earliest examples of using rockery as ornaments in architecture.
The seventh storey, once severely damaged, was restored during the Ming Dynasty. Today the pagoda leans to one side, but not yet so as to fall down. In 1957, when the pagoda was being reinforced, a stone casket was discovered between the first and second storeys. Inside was a smaller container with Buddhist scriptures. An inscription on the container noted that the pagoda was completed on the seventeenth day of the twelfth month in the second year of the reign of Jianlong (961). After reinforcement the base of the pagoda was consolidated and the slant was prevented from becoming more serious. Still leaning but standing firm, the Yunyan Temple Pagoda, a miracle of China, is over one hundred years older than the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy.