Richly Ornamented Civilian Architecture
The Bai people inhabit mainly Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture, which is the south of the transaction cordillera. The average altitude of that area is between 1200 meters to 1300 meters, and the southeast part is a little lower than the northwest. The Blue Mountain lies in the very center and divides it into an eastern and a western part with different natural and geographical environments. The west part has many high mountains and deep abysses, whereas the east is much flatter. The Erhai Lake lies on the east of the Blue Mountain. The landscape is very beautiful in the lake area, which has a fame of "the Blue Mountain is like silver, and the Erhai is jade." Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture has a mild climate in most of its areas. With a yearly average temperature of 16 degrees Celsius, all four seasons in Dali are as beautiful and temperate as spring is.
The Bai civilian architecture varies from region to region. In flat lands, houses are generally timberworks constructed with bricks. In frigid mountain areas, however, most houses are "Duomufang"-houses constructed by laying logs into walls.
Adapted to the geographical features of the area, civilian buildings generally back on the Blue Mountain and face the Erhai Lake. Winds are strong there, so eaves are covered with bluestones so as to prevent it from wind destructions. There is no window in the front wall, which creates a comfortable environment within the house. The eaves are constructed large because of the rainy weather. Earthquakes frequently take place in Dali; therefore the quakeproof measures are very strict. The timberwork is an integrated structure with every part solidly constructed.
Most Bai civilian houses have a courtyard. It is usually composed of two floors: the upper one for storing grain and sundries, the lower one for residence. Some houses may also have a front corridor and eaves with double layers. In most cases, the front wall is a wooden structure with engraved door and windows. Another character of Bai architecture is that it has a graceful and refined ridge curve with a tall and sharp peak and two upturned ends.
The "three houses with one front wall" building style is favored by many of the Bai people. The most common styles of overall arrangement include: "one main house with two more cottages," "three houses with one front wall," "four houses with five patios," etc. "One main house with two more cottages" is a building that consists of a two-storied house with a cottage on each side; a building of the "three houses with one more wall" style is a combination of three perpendicular double-stored houses with one more wall on the other side where the gate is positioned; a "four houses and five patios" building has four double-storied houses in a square shape, a big patio in the center and a small patio and a pavilion in each corner. The base of a building is usually constructed of square stones so as to be stable and solid. The gate is often decorated with engravings and color paintings, which are very beautiful and show great skills. The door of the main room consists of six lattices. Each lattice has an upper part and a lower part, both engraved with various lively patterns of legendary characters, birds and beasts, and flowers. The gate is often constructed with materials like timber, clay, marbles, and blue bricks. In a symmetrical shape with beautiful lanes and arches, upturned eaves and angles, the building looks very grand and elegant.
Walls are usually painted with slaked lime. Inside the patio, parterres are laid to plant flowers and trees. The front wall has upturned eaves, which are decorated with bricks on the brim. Covered with blue or glazed tiles, the roof is symmetrical and looks very graceful. The middle part of the front wall is painted white, on which Chinese characters like "Wan Zi Qian Hong"(thousands of red and violet flowers blooming in spring), "Cai Yun Nan Xian" (colorful clouds appearing in the South), "Nong Feng Cheng Xiang" (A dragon and a phoenix present a good omen), "Fu Shou An Kang" (fortune, longevity and good health) are written to show their wish for good blessings. Some times, single Chinese characters like "Fu (fortune)", "Shou (longevity) ," "Lu (richness)," "Xi (happiness)" are also favored on these occasions. People may paint or write their poems or prose on the front wall as well.
Many civilian building walls in Dali are built by laying rectangular stones together. These walls are very solid and durable. Some others are even built with pebbles in the Eighteen Brooks of the Blue Mountain. There is a byword among the local people that "as one of the three treasures in Dali, pebbles make walls that never collapse."
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