Listed as the World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 1998, The Summer Palace was originally a simple royal garden, and extensively expanded and decorated under the reign of Emperor Qianlong, the fourth emperor of the Qing Dynasty. In 1750, he deepened the park’s lake and added buildings to make it a country house. Once, the imperial families of Qing dynasty like to come here during the summer to escape the dampness of Beijing.
But in 1860, the Summer Palace was burned to the ground by the British and France Forces during the Second Opium War, like most of Beijing’s gardens. In 1888, for rebuilding this park, the empress Dowager Cixi had spent a lot of money that should have been spent for the construction of the Chinese navy. In 1900, during the Boxer Rebellion, the Summer Palace was again destroyed by the “eight-power Allied forces” during their reoccupation of Beijing.
After the fall of the Qing Dynasty, the Summer Palace was opened to the public in 1914. Now it is the largest and most well-preserved royal park composed mainly of Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake (220 hectares) with the famous bridge with seventeen arches, and owns over 3,000 man-made ancient structures, including pavilions, towers, bridges, corridors, etc.
Just like his name, The Summer Palace was the playground used by the emperors to escape the summer furnaces of Beijing. Like Versailles and its famous gardens, the Summer Palace is a masterpiece of Chinese garden design. Morning is the best time to visit the Summer Palace. The transportation in Beijing is very convenient, they can get to the Summer Palace easily, for example, by subway line 4. As you walk slowly by the lake, you can see many people practicing Tai Chi and singing.
Because most of the buildings are located in the east and the north, you are suggested to entre by the East Gate. You can visit the halls one after another: The beautiful Hall of Benevolence and Longevity (仁寿殿) was the reception venue for the Empress Dowager Cixi where she had the ministerial conference. From here, you can follow Kunming Lake to the Hall of Jade Ripples (玉澜堂), another important historic place where the emperor Guangxu, the Empress Dowager Cixi’s nephew, was detained on Cixi’s orders for daring to undermine his authority.
Another notable building is the Covered Gallery (长廊) at the southern foot of Longevity Hill. It is 700 meters long and decorated with more than 8,000 colored paintings about Chinese history. The impressive arched ceiling is beautifully painted on each beam of the corridor, including landscapes, flowers, birds, fish and insects, and allusions to people.
If you like, you can climb the Longevity Hill from the “Yunhui Yuyu” archway (云辉玉宇牌楼) at the foot of the mountain, through the Cloud Gate (云门), the Second Palace Gate (二宫门), the Cloud Hall (排云殿), the Dehui Hall (德辉殿), the Buddha Incense Pavilion (佛香阁) which is the center of the front of hill, to the Sea of wisdom (云海). On the top of the hill, you can have a good view on the Kunming Lake, who was modeled on The West Lake in Hangzhou, and covers the Three quarters of the park. You can also see the 17-arch Bridge (十七孔桥) on the lake. More than 500 stone lions of different sizes and shapes are carved on the railings on both sides of the bridge.
After the visit, you can take a boat on the lake, and you will see a large stone boat at the west end of the long corridor. This “Stone Boat” is 36 meters long and piled with marble carvings. Constructed in 1755, it is the only western style architecture in the Summer Palace.
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