Located 15km from Beijing, the Summer Palace is the largest and best-preserved royal garden in China.
The Summer Palace has a history of over 800 years. Early in the Jin dynasty, an imperial palace named Golden Hill Palace was built on the present site of the Summer Palace. In 1750,with 4.48 million taels of silver, Emperor Qian Long of the Qing dynasty built the Garden of Clear Ripples here and renamed the hill Longevity Hill to celebrate his motherís birthday.
In 1860, the Anglo-French Allied Forces invaded Beijing and set fire to the garden. In 1888, Empress Dowager Cixi, with funds embezzled from the Imperial Navy, restored the grand garden. The construction had lasted for ten year and after completion, she renamed it Yiheyuan - Garden of Peace and Harmony. In 1900, the garden was plundered again by the eight powers. This time, nearly all big temples and halls at the back of the Longevity Hill were destroyed and only one survived. Only when the fugitive Cixi returned to Beijing in 1903, did the full-scale restoration begin.
Mainly consists of Longevity Hill (which can be divided into Front Hill and Rear Hill) and Kunming Lake, this present Summer Palace covers a vast area of 294 hectares, in which three quarters are water. The garden can be divided into three parts, namely, administration, residence and scenery browsing area. The administration area, taking Halls of Benevolence and Longevity as its principal part, is the place where Cixi dealt with state affairs and received officials. Residence area mainly consists of Hall of Jade Billows, Garden of Virtue and Harmony, and Hall of Joyful Longevity. The Kunming Lake and Longevity Hill then serve as the scenery browsing area.
The Summer Palace has two entrances, one is the East Palace Gate and the other is North Palace Gate. Most visitors enter the garden from the East Palace Gate.
All the man-made hills, halls, pavilions and temples, including Kunming Lake and Longevity Hill, blend together harmoniously in spite of their individual styles. Ingeniously conceived and elaborately designed, this garden, concentrating the features of the gardens in southern and northern China, can be reputed as the soul of the Chinese gardens.
The Summer Palace of today is more or less the same as the palace rebuilt in 1903. After the last Qing Emperor Puyi was thrown out of the Summer Palace in 1924, this garden was turned into a park. But at first, due to the admission charge was very high, the normal people still had no chance to view the magnificent royal garden. Today, most people can afford the ticket. This old imperial garden now becomes an ideal place for Beijing locals to retreat from the hot summer in Beijing.
Eastern Palace Gate
It is the main entrance to the Summer Palace. The opening in the center was for the emperor and empress exclusively. The two side openings were for the use of princes and court officials. Eunuchs and soldiers used side gates to the south and north. The name plaque "Yiheyuan" in front of the gate was written by Emperor Guang Xu. The stone slab in front of the gate bears a carving in relief of two dragons playing with a pearl, a symbol of imperial authority.
Grand Opera Tower
The imperial theater in the Dehe Garden is the largest of its kind in China today. It is 21 meters high and has three floors. An opening is in the ceiling of the first floor, in which a winch could lower performers and props down onto the first floor. Performers could appear on the three floors at the same time.
The 728-meter-long corridor runs from a moon gate in the east to Shizhang Pavilion in the west. All the 273 sections are painted with pictures either of ancient stories or landscapes. It is the longest and most famous corridor in China.
Also known as Stone Boat, it was made with huge stone blocks in 1755. The 36-meter-long immovable boat has two tiers. It was placed in lake to symbolize the steadfast rule of the Qing Dynasty.
Cast in 1755 the bull has upturned horns and ears. Its eyes look intensively ahead. A note of 80 characters inscribed on its body tells that it was used to suppress flood.
17- Arch Bridge
The 150-meter-long stone bridge links the South Islet with the eastern shore of Kunming Lake. On the heads of balusters of the bridge there are 544 stone lions of various postures and looks.