Faking it Eurostyle: China builds mini-me towns (PHOTOS, VIDEO)
When visiting China these days, forget about Beijing's Forbidden City, the Great Wall or the Terracotta Army. With the country's obsession with copying things, you can easily find yourself in a UK county, a traditional Russian village or next to the Eiffel tower - only 40 minutes drive from China's Hangzhou.
Built in 2006, the Sky City with its Eiffel Tower that rises more than 90 meters out of a green field in China's coastal Zhejiang province is just one of the examples of a number of residential communities, constructed by the country's developers to mimic famous European destinations. Houses surrounding the tower have mansard roofs and very parisian balconies.
Prefer being closer to the water? The Venice Water Town is another fake part of Europe in China, with Italian-style villas overlooking the canals, its very own St. Mark's Square (turned by the locals into a basketball court) and the Doge's Palace.
Being considered by many as vanity projects for the wealthy, properties in such copycat locations are not cheap. Some villas in "Paris" are priced at around $1 mln - probably the reason many of them are still unoccupied and give the whole place a feel of emptiness. The construction began with China's economic boom, aiming to lure rich customers to suburban developments.
One of the most expensive "European" places to live in China is the replica town of Hallstatt. The original UNESCO World Heritage Austrian resort is a popular tourist destination, but the one in Huizhou city in southern China is not one to be missed too - the entire town has been copied with no expense spared. Now some of the villas here cost more than the real ones in the alpine village.
With copycat residences being priced that high, the Europe-recreated destinations are mostly filled with real estate agents, construction and maintenance workers and tourists, who can't afford to travel to Europe. Chinese newly-weds love to have their big day's photographs taken in "exotic" "far-away" locations - the Thames Town is one of their favourite destinations. The copycat English-style development is about 30 kilometers from central Shanghai. It boasts red phone boxes, statues of Winston Churchill and Harry Potter, pubs and an artificial river Thames.
Russia has not been deprived of a look-a-like version too. A recreation of a traditional Russian village, featuring Orthodox crosses atop golden onion-domes, birch trees and matryoshka dolls has been constructed in northern China. Its owner claims to have spent almost a hundred million dollars building it - and he says it wasn't for the money. "I built this village so that future genetarions know Russia, its culture and how close we are," Huang Zu Xiang told RT's Alexey Yaroshevsky.
Some attempts to recreate the foreign way of life and out of the place surroundings are thought to have gone too far. A 15th century fishing village in the city of Tianjin in northern China has been taken down to make way for a replica Manhattan. Authentic fishermen's huts gave way to NYC-style skyscrapers and a fake Hudson River.
Time has shown that Shanghai's "suburban wonderland" - the "One City, Nine Towns" project, aiming to create satellite towns around the city in different international styles has not been a success. But with the copying culture having deep historical roots - think China's first emperor building replicas of conquered kingdoms' palaces - it's only a matter of time before some next internationally renowned landmark lands on Chinese soil.