Located 15 km northwest of Beijing, The Summer Palace (頤和園 Yiheyuan) is the largest and most well-preserved royal park in China Construction started in 1750 as a luxurious royal garden for royal families to rest and entertain. It later became the main residence of royal members in the end of the Qing Dynasty.
According to historical documents, with original name as ‘Qingyi Garden‘ (Garden of Clear Ripples), the Summer Palace could not elude the rampages of the Anglo-French Allied Force and was destroyed by fire. It was renamed after its first reconstruction in 1888. It was also recorded that Empress Dowager Cixi embezzled navy funds to reconstruct it as a resort in which to spend the rest of her life. In 1900, the Summer Palace suffered another hit by the Eight-Power Allied Force and was repaired in the next 2 years. In 1924, it was open to the public. In 1988 it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Composed mainly of Longevity Hill (Wanshou Shan) and Kunming Lake, its 742 acres in size, with over 3,000 man-made ancient structures including pavilions, towers, bridges, corridors, etc. It can be divided into four parts: the Court Area, Front Hill Area, Rear Hill Area and Lake Area.
- With the same pattern of the Forbidden City: ‘Palace in front and garden behind’, the Court Area consists of sections for both court affairs and living. East Palace Gate and Hall of Benevolence and Longevity served as office of the Emperor. The Hall of Jade Ripples was for Guangxu to live in and the Hall of Joyful Longevity for Cixi. There are also the Garden of Virtue and Harmony where Cixi was entertained and Yiyun Hall where once lived the Empress Longyu.
- Front-Hill area is symmetrically laid out in east and west many buildings and gardens with the south-facing Tower of Buddhist Incense as the central axis. Walking up to the hilltop, on which lots of important buildings are positioned, including Hall of Dispelling Clouds, Hall of Moral Glory, Baoyun Bronze Pavilion, Revolving Archives, Hall of the Sea of Wisdom, each with a view over Kunming Lake below.
- Lake Area – The East Causeway of the lake is connected to the West Causeway by Long Gallery, which both were interspersed with pavilions, bridges and wharfs. Featured within this area are Seventeen-Arch Bridge, Bronze Ox, Nanhu Island, Hall of Embracing the Universe, Spacious Pavilion, Pavilion of Bright Scenery, Marble Boat and Suzhou Market Street.
- Rear-Hill Area is quiet as compared to Front Hill Area. Most restoration was never able to be completed after wars, only a few ruins are left. In the axis of Rear Hill Area, there used to be a religious building group-Houda Temple, a composite structure with both Han and Tibetan characters. Major scenic spots include Garden of Harmonious Interests, Hall of Increasing Longevity, Four Great Regions, Presence of Virtue Temple and Hall of Serenity.
Entrance Fee between ~ RMB 20 and 30 depending on season (Seniors over 70 half price), with additional fees for major internal towers, halls and garden. Need about 3 to 4 hours to explore. Closes round 5 or 6 pm.