Location: 19 Xinjiangongmen Road., Haidian District, Beijing, China
Reason to visit: World Cultural Heritage Site; the existing largest ironic lakeside retreat for royalty in China
Our ratings: ★★★★★
Opening Hours: Gate: 6:30 – 20:00; Parks Inside: 8:30 – 17:00 (April to October)
Gate: 7:00 – 19:00; Parks Inside: 9:00 - 16:00 (November to next March)
The Summer Palace, is a vast ensemble of lakes, gardens, and palaces in Beijing. It was an imperial garden in the Qing Dynasty. Mainly dominated by Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake, it covers an expanse of 2.9 square kilometres (1.1 sq mi), three-quarters of which is water. It is located in the western suburbs of Beijing, 15 kilometers from the urban area, covering an area of about 290 hectares, adjacent to the Old Summer Palace. The design of the Summer Palace is based on Kunming Lake, Wanshou Mountain, and Hangzhou West Lake. It is also a large-scale landscape garden built by the design method of Jiangnan Garden.
In December 1998, UNESCO included the Summer Palace on its World Heritage List. It declared the Summer Palace "a masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden design. The natural landscape of hills and open water is combined with artificial features such as pavilions, halls, palaces, temples and bridges to form a harmonious ensemble of outstanding aesthetic value".
History of Summer Palace
Summer Palace, formerly known as Qing Yi Garden, first built in the Qing Dynasty Qianlong Emperor 15 year (AD 1750), which was completed lasting for 15 years. During the Qing Dynasty, the Summer Palace was the last built palace in the Beijing's famous "three mountains and five gardens" (Xiangshan Jing Yi Garden, Yuquanshan Jing Ming Garden, Wanshoushan Qing Yi Garden, Summer Palace, Changchun Garden). In AD 1860, the Summer Palace was severely damaged in the Second Opium War by Anglo-French Allied Force. The buildings were burned and the treasures and Buddha were looted.
In Qing Dynasty Guangxu Emperor 12 Year (AD 1886), the Summer Palace was first rebuilt. In AD 1888, Empress Dowager Cixi appropriated the navy fund to repair this palace and renamed it "Yi He Yuan". In AD 1895, the project of the reconstruction of the Summer Palace was finished.
Summer Palace became the most important political and diplomatic activity center outside the Forbidden City for the supreme ruler in late Qing Dynasty. It is an important witness of the modern history of China and it is also the locality of many major historical events.
In 1898, Emperor Guangxu met Reform thinker - Kang Youwei in the Renshou Hall in Summer Palace to inquire political reform; after the failure of Hundred Days' Reform, Emperor Guangxu was put under house arrest in Yu Lan Tang in the garden for a long time, since, the Summer Palace was said to be the most luxurious prison.
In AD 1900, the Summer Palace again suffered the loot by the Eight-Power Allied Forces, the following year, the Empress Dowager Cixi returned to Beijing from Xi'an, once again utilized the large sums of money to fix this palace. In 1924, the Summer Palace was turned into a park which is opening to the outside world.
What to See in Summer Palace
Kunming Lake is about three-quarters of the total area of the Summer Palace. It was originally a natural lake where many springs gathered in the northwestern suburbs of Beijing. It used to have names such as Qilitun and Dabohu. The total area of Kunming Lake is 3,000 mu wide, about 2 square kilometers, which is larger than the five North Seas in Beijing. This lake is a man-made lake, so it is a little bit shallow, with an average depth of only 1.7 meters.
There are a total of 6 bridges around the lake. They all have different shapes. And the largest bridge here is the 17-arch Bridge, which connects the eastern shore with South Lake Island and is 150 meters long. Near to the bridge, there is a bronze ox sculpture on the eastern shore of this lake. Kunming Lake was designed to represent the traditional Chinese gardening practice of "one pond, three hills", which contains rich Chinese geomantic theory.
Seventeen Arches Bridge
The 17-hole bridge is a masterpiece of ancient bridge architecture. It is a long bridge connecting the east bank of Kunming Lake and Nanhu Island. Built during the Qing Emperor Qianlong (1736-1795), it is the largest stone bridge in the park. The bridge consists of 17 bridge holes, 150 meters long, flying across the East Bank and Nanhu Island. Its shape combines the characteristics of Beijing Lugou Bridge and Suzhou Baodai Bridge. The stone carvings on the bridge are extremely beautiful, and the lions of different looks are carved on the pillars of each bridge. The 17-hole bridge contains a profound cultural heritage and has a high aesthetic value, academic value, and use value.
It is located in the south of Longevity Hill, facing Kunming Lake. It is east to on the Yaoyue Door and west to Shizhang Pavilion with 273 intervals. It has a total length of 728 meters, honors to be the longest corridor of the Chinese garden. In 1992, it was recognized as the longest corridor in the world and listed in the "Guinness Book of World Records".
Wisdom Sea Building
The Wisdom Sea is a religious building at the highest point of the Longevity Peak. It is a beamless Buddhist temple. The outer layers of the building are all beautifully decorated with yellow and green glazed tiles. The upper part is covered with a small amount of purple and blue glazed tiles. The word "smart sea" is a Buddhist term, which is intended to praise the Buddha's wisdom as wide as sea, and the Dharma is boundless. Although the building is very similar to a wooden structure, there is actually no wood. Because the temple is dedicated to the Buddha of infinite life, it is also called "the Temple of Immortality".
How to Get to Summer Palace
Take subway line 4 to the northwest direction and get off at Beigongmen Station (or North Gate 北宫门) and exit from Exit D and walk to the west, soon you will see the north gate (Beigongmen Gate）to Summer Palace 颐和园 (entrance fee:RMB30) on your left side.
Buses via the East Gate ( Main Gate) to the Summer Palace (颐和园正门, 东宫门)
Buses via the North Gate to the Summer Palace (北宫门)
Bus 303、330、331、346、375、384、393、634、716、718、737、801、808、817、834、Express 5
Buses via New Palace Gate (or South Gate) to the Summer Palace (新建宫门)