Summer Palace, Beijing Yiyeyuan
The Summer Palace, lies 15km/9mi to the north of Beijing, its 716 acres making it China's largest park; originally it was a private garden. In 1153 the emperor had the park laid out and named it Jinshui Yuan. During the Yuan period (1271-1368) the lake in the park was enlarged (today called Kunming Hu). From the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) onwards the park was used as imperial gardens. Under Qianlong (reigned: 1735-96) the complex was enlarged to its present size. In 1860 English and French troops burned the park to the ground. Empress Cixi reconstructed the park in 1888, using funds which were in fact intended for the imperial fleet. She named it Yiyeyuan. In 1900 it was once again destroyed by foreign troops and rebuilt yet again by the Empress. It was finally opened to the public in 1924, and since 1949 extensive restoration work has been carried out. Today the park is a favorite destination for excursions.
Opening hours: 7am-5pm
Entrance fee in CNY: Adult ¥35.00
Useful tips: Some buildings on the property are only open seasonally.
Hill of Longeviety
Hill of Longeviety (Wanshoushan) This 60m/197ft high hill is an outlier of the Yanshan Mountains. Around the middle of the 17th C the imperial herds were put out to graze here. In 1750, on the occasion of his mother's birthday the Emperor Qianlong gave the hill its present day name; he had numerous buildings erected here, but these were burned down by British and French troops. The present buildings date from the 1880s and 1890s.
Hall of Well-being and Longeviety
The main entrance of the Summer Palace is situated in the east. Just 50m/150ft to the west of this the Hall of Well-being and Longeviety (Renshou Dian) stands on the east bank of the lake. In this hall, where the throne still stands, the Emperor Guangxu and Empress Cixi gave audience to Chinese officials and received foreign ambassadors. To the northwest of the hall is the Hall of the Jade Waves (Yulan Tang), where the private chambers of the Emperor Guangxi were situated. He was held here under house arrest by order of Empress Cixi for ten years.
Leaving the Hall of Well-being and Longeviety, on the left is a fenced-in courtyard where the Great Theatre stands. When it was built in 1891 it was the largest theater of its time. The empress occasionally attended performances of the Beijing Opera which sometimes lasted several days.The three-story stage house, into which trap doors were built, is 21m/68ft high and 17m/55ft wide. The empress sat in the Hall of Exhilaration (Yile Dian) opposite during the performances.
Hall of Happiness and Longevity
Slightly to the west of the Great Theatre is the Hall of Happiness and Longevity (Leshou Tang Hall) which stands on the north bank of the lake; it has a connecting courtyard filled with tropical plants and curious rare stones. It served in summer as a private residence for the Empress Cixi; her winters were spent in the Beijing Imperial Palace.
To the west of the Hall of Happiness and Longevity is the beginning of the celebrated Long Corridor (Chang Lang), which runs along the northern banks of the Kunming Lake. The long covered walk, made from painted wood, has a roof supported by 273 pairs of columns. It is decorated with 8000 paintings: landscapes, episodes of historical interest and scenes from famous novels of classical Chinese literature.Half way along the corridor we reach the Pailou (decorated gate), from where the ascent of Wanshoushan Hill begins. The Long Corridor ends at the southwestern foot of this hill.
At the end of the Long Corridor is the Marble Ship (Shifang) also called Qingyan Fang. The base is of marble and the upper part of wood; two stone wheels also protrude from the construction. The ship is ironic evidence of the fact that Empress Cixi used the funds which were intended to modernize the imperial fleet to renovate her private residence.
South Lake Island
From the end of the Long Corridor the South Lake Island can be reached, either by ferryboat or in the southwest on foot over the Seven-Arched Bridge (Shiqikong Qiao). This bridge was built over a hundred years ago, and is the longest bridge on the lake. Worth noting are the 150 lions on the railings, all of which are carved differently. In front of the bridge stands a bronze ox, which supposedly fends off the water demon.On the South Lake Island stands the Temple of the Dragon King (Longwang Miao).
Cloud Dispelling Hall
After passing through the Cloud Dispelling Gate the Yunjin Dian Hall can be seen to the west and the Yuhua Dian Hall to the east. We soon come to the Cloud Dispelling Hall (Paiyun Dian Hall), which is flanked by the halls Fanghui and Zixiao. Empress Cixi's birthdays were celebrated here. In one of the largest halls in this palace are displayed some of the Empress's birthday presents which she received for her 70th birthday. Among these is a painting of Cixi by the Dutch artist Hubert Vos.Two corridors running parallel to another lead to the Hall of Virtuous Light (Dhui Dian), where steep steps go up to the Pavilion of the Buddha of Incense (Foxiang Ge).The 41m/134ft high, octagonal pavilion with its 20m/66ft high stone pillar is the most important building on the Hill of Longevity. From the top of this pavilion the whole park can be seen.
To the east of thePavilion of the Buddha of Incense is the Zhuanlun Zang, an archive of Buddhist manuscripts. A 10m/33ft high stele in the center of the building carries the inscription; ''Wanshou Shan, Kumming Hu'' (Hill of Longevity, Kunminghu Lake) by Emperor Qianlong; on the back of the stele is a report on work carried out on the lake.
Hear the Golden Orioles
Along the Long Corridor towards the west is the House called Hear the Golden Orioles (Tingli Guan), where theatrical performances were previously held and which today is a restaurant.
Pavilion of the Precious Clouds
To the west of the Pavilion of the Buddha of Incense is the Pavilion of Precious Clouds (Baoyun Ge), finished completely in bronze. On the south side are engraved the names of the craftsman who worked on the building.
Temple of the Sea of Wisdom
The Western Dike (Xidi) connects the northwest part of the park (Summer Palace) with the south. The dike and its six bridges including the lovely arched Jade Belt Bridge (Yudai Qiao), are reproductions of the Su-Dongpo Dam in the Hangszhou West Lake.
Kunminghu Lake is fed by spring water. It was originally only a pool, but Emperor Qianlong had it enlarged in order to carry out naval exercises here in the summer. Bridges and dams subdivide the lake into several sections.The Western Dike (Xidi) connects the northwest part of the park with the south. The dike and its six bridges including the lovely arched Jade Belt Bridge (Yudai Qiao), are reproductions of the Su-Dongpo Dam in the Hangszhou West Lake.
Garden of Perfection and Light
The Garden of Perfection and Light (Yuanming Yuan), the so-called Old Summer Palace, is found 500m/550yd from the New Summer Palace. The building of the 350ha/864 acre complex began in 1709. This complex consists of three sections - the Garden of Perfection and Light, the Garden of Eternal Spring (Changchun Yuan), and the Garden of the Beautiful Spring (Qichun Yuan). The Emperor Qianlong engaged the Jesuit Giuseppe Castiglione from 1747 until 1760 to build European style palaces. In 1860 the complex was destroyed in a matter of ten days by British and French troops and finally, at the suggestion of the British, it was set on fire. The imperial family began restoring the complex, although they had to stop again because of insufficient funds being available. Furthermore, the stones were used by the Chinese for house building. Today real effort is being put into the restoration work.The gardens used to be characterized by lakes, intertwined watercourses, and man-made hills and also numerous palaces and pavilions. There are still small traces of the European style palaces (Xiyang Lou) to be seen. Part of the complex has now been transformed into a park with boat hire, restaurants, etc.A small exhibition provides information on the history of the complex and a model conveys an impression its former glory.
Garden of Harmony and Pleasure
On the eastern foot of Hill of Longevity, hidden in an out-of-the-way corner, is the Garden of Harmony and Pleasure (Xiequ Yuan). This ''garden in a garden'' was laid out in 1751 and modeled on a private park in Wuxi; it was renovated in 1811. There is a lotus pond surrounded by covered paths and buildings.To the west of the park are the Pavilion of Joy and Farming (Lenong Xuan), the Pavilion of Long Life (Yiahou Tang) and an observatory tower (Jingfu Ge).
More Summer Palace Pictures