The ancient city of Dali is located about 13 kilometers north the "new city", Xiaguan in the Yunnan Province in the south of China bordering Vietnam. It is one of Yunnan's and China's most popular tourist destinations. It has historic sites, ancient buildings and temples, nearby beautiful Cangshan Mountain and Erhai Lake, local crafts, and the "Foreigners' Street" with Western-style restaurants and bars and English-speaking business owners.
The present ancient city of Dali was built during the Ming dynasty. Though there are some older buildings and structures remaining from earlier eras. In particular, the famous Three Pagodas of Dali which is about a kilometer from the ancient city are some of China's best preserved buildings from the Tang Dynasty era.
Because of its history and wealth, Dali Ancient City was surrounded by an ancient protective wall which is over 6 kilometers in length, 7.5 meters high and 6 meters thick. Due to centuries of erosion, and conflict, only the base of the original city wall can be seen today, but parts the wall and the gate towers have been renovated in recent times.
The city has a long history. Around 738 AD, it became the seat of the Kingdom of Nanzhou that covered large areas of Yunnan and northern Burma. The Nanzhou Kingdom had control of important trade routes to Southeast and South Asia. Its location enabled Dali to prosper as merchandise from China was carried southwards, and as goods from as far as India was carried northwards and it developed into a major trading center. The rulers of the Nanzhou became Buddhists, and Dali became a center for the spread of Buddhism from Southeast and South Asia to the rest of China and East Asia.
After two hundred years, The Nanzhou Kingdom was conquered by the Duan Clan. Two hundred years after this, in 1253, the Mongols conquered the city and ended the Dali Kingdom. Under Mongolian Emperor Kublai Khan, Dali became an important military outpost for the Mongolians. The Mongolians in turn were defeated, and the Ming dynasty was established.
The local customs and architecture is distinctive. A stroll through the ancient city with its stone paved streets, traditional style houses, and numerous gardens is an interesting excursion.
The local people love growing flowers. There is an annual Flower Festival. Families display their potted plants in front of the houses. Tourists appreciate this festival. The local food ethnic food and teas are different than that consumed in most of China. Dali is also famous for the many types of marble it produces, which are used primarily in construction and for decorative objects. In fact, Dali is so famous for the stone that the name of marble in Chinese is literally Dali Stone.