Suzhou is best known for its exquisite traditional gardens, but it also serves as China's largest silk producer. Suzhou is one of the oldest towns on the Yangzi Basin, dating back some 2500 years ago. After the completion of the Grand Canal during the Sui dynasty, Suzhou flourished from its strategic location on a major trading route. The city had six canals running north to south, and fourteen running east to west across the city. These series of canals is what led Suzhou to be called "the Venice of the East."
Marco Polo arrived in 1276 describing the town's thriving silk trade and by the 14th century, Suzhou had established itself as the leading silk producer in China. Artists, aristocrats, scholars, and pleasure-seekers all found their way to Suzhou and built villas and garden escapes. During the 16th century, these gardens numbered more than 100. Some of the most famous of these are the Master of the Nets Garden, and the Humble Administrator's Garden. Part of Suzhou's allure was its boast that it had the most beautiful women in China and a famous proverb at the time that said, 'In heaven there is paradise, on earth Suzhou and Hangzhou'.