Summer Palace

Summer Palace: the Largest Imperial Garden in the World

Fifteen kilometers from the city proper of Beijing is Yi He Yuan or the SummerPalace. Originally it was called Qing Ji Yuan, built in the 15th year (1750) of the reign of Emperor Qian Long, the fourth emperor of the Qing Dynasty. 

China was in its heyday in the mid-18th century, when the society was secure and the state was rich. The country was at its peak of the 2,000 years of feudal society, politically, economically, militarily and culturally. The palace was built with the personal guidance of Qian Long. It took 15 years to complete this great "cultural project". 

Longevity Hill, with its many palaces and temples, is grandiose; Kunming Lake in front of it is vast, dotted with pleasure boats; it is a unique combination of what is artificial and natural; making the Summer Palace a fairyland, quite different from what is Western in style. It is poetic and picturesque. 

The Summer Palace used to be a forbidden area of the imperial family. In 1911, after the Qing Dynasty was overthrown, the Summer Palace was reserved as the private property of Pu Yi, the last emperor of China. Later, this mysterious imperial garden was made a public park, open to visitors. Since then, more than 300 million Chinese and foreign tourists have visited the park. 

The Summer Palace covers about 300 hectares. There are about four major scenic areas. In the easternmost is the Western Gate zone. This used to be the place where the Qing emperors did their political activities and lived. The zone covers the Ren Shou Dian (Hall of Benevolence and Longevity), where emperors received ministers; the south and north imperial houses; the bedrooms; the grand theatrical stage; and the courtyards. The Yu Lan Tang was the bedroom of Emperor Guang Xu and later became the place where he was imprisoned. Even today, then high walls with closed passages are still seen. 

The Longevity Hill Front zone is the most extravagant. The whole scenic zone is linked by two symmetrical axes. The east-west axis is the famous Long Corridor; the south-north axis starts from the middle of the Long Corridor, featuring the Pai Yun Men (Gate of Clouds), Pai Yun Dian (Hall of Clouds), De Hui Dian (Hall of Benevolence and Glory) and the Fo Xiang Ge (Tower of Burning Buddhist Incense). The Fo Xiang Ge is the center of the park, with surrounding structures distributed symmetrically. 

The northernmost is the behind-hill lake zone. Although there are not many structures, woods and trees grow luxuriously, with winding hill paths, presenting a sharp contrast to the extravagance of the hill front scenes. A group of Tibetan style structures and a scene typical of southern China form the compactly arranged Suzhou Street. 

The water surface accounts for three-fourth of the park. With its rippling water dotted with boats, the lake is the best place to view Longevity Hill, which is like a scroll of Paintings unfolding toward the east. In the lake, there is a dike, called Xi Di (Western Dike), which is lined with peach and willow trees and has six arched bridges of different types. There are also different types of ancient structures in the three islands on water. The 17-arch bridge lies across the lake, a scene that visitors never forget. 

The Summer Palace is the best-kept imperial garden in Beijing. It boasts the best ancient structures as well as garden styles. It is virtually a museum of traditional Chinese gardens. 

The main structure in the Summer Palace is the Fo Xiang Ge atop Longevity Hill. The tower is built on a square foundation 21 meters high. It stands 40 meters high and has eight facades, three stories and four tiers of roofs. It represents the best of ancient Chinese architecture. 

Verandahs and angled pavilions are featured in the gardens. The Long Corridor of the Summer Palace is about 728 meters long, the longest in the world. The painted beams bear more than 4,000 pictures about legendary stories or flowers, birds, fish and insects. On the eastern bank of KunmingLake is a double-eaved octagonal pavilion, the largest in China. In addition, there is the beamless hall on the top of the Longevity Hill, which is built entirely of all bricks and stones, without any prop. 

The casting and carving are of the highest quality in the world. The big cast iron bull on the eastern bank of Kunming Lake is very vivid, with inscriptions on the back. On the northern bank is a marble boat, with the beams and props exquisitely carved.

The Summer Palace has amassed the best of ancient Chinese architectural styles. In the east, halls and houses form enclosed courtyards linked to one another by corridors, a style derived from the courtyard houses of North China. In the south, an embankment lined with willow cuts through the lake, an imitation of the scenic West Lake in Hangzhou. On the north slope of the Longevity Hill do structures resemble Tibetan lamaseries and a shop-lined street named after Suzhou.

Summer Palace Travel Tips

Admission Fee: CNY 25 (Nov. 1 to Mar. 31); CNY 35 (Apr. 1 to Oct. 31)

Opening Hours: 07:00-17:00 (Nov. 1 to Mar. 31); 06:30-18:00 (Apr. 1 to Oct. 31)

Last Updated on Thursday, 28 January 2016 16:22