Originally built in the beginning of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) for defence against bandit raids, the towers are a historic treasure of ancient China.
But in spite of a UNESCO World Heritage Site listing and the city’s beautiful landscape, Kaiping gets relatively few tourists.
Local officials were disappointed in last year’s record 600,000 visitors, who believe Kaiping is deserving of more tourists. Other more well known cities in China can see that many visitors in a week.
Kaiping offers tranquil scenery and a history lesson on unique Chinese architecture.
Three types of diaolou were constructed over the centuries – defensive, residential and communal.
“Most diaolou were designed with reinforced structures, thick walls and small windows,” says Liwen Huang, marketing manager for the Tourism Administration of Kaiping Travel Resource Development Center.
In the early 20th century, Kaiping was a major source of overseas emigres.
When many of them returned home with newly acquired wealth, they built diaolou with Western influences incorporated into the architecture.
Building residential diaolou with flamboyant designs was a way for them to display their wealth. Roman, Baroque and Gothic influences can clearly be seen in many of the watchtowers.
This unique fusion of Chinese and Western architecture, in addition to the ancient diaolou’s historical significance, were the major reasons in the 2007 UNESCO decision to grant World Heritage Site designation upon the towers. Image/CNN