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Summer Palace

An Introduction to Summer Palace

The Summer Palace is located within the Haidian District, northwest of Beijing. It is the best preserved imperial garden in the world and the largest of its kind that still in existence in China today. The Chinese call it Yihe Yuan (Garden of Restful Peace), and the landscaped gardens, temples and pavilions were designed to achieve harmony with nature, to soothe and please the eye.  The park spreads across the low hills, including The Longevity Hill, around Kunming Lake, and was divided into three main zones (administration, living, and relaxation).  The wonderful buildings and courtyards wander beside the lake, along the waterways and climb the low slopes of the hillside.  The arched bridges, pretty promenades, decorated ‘corridors’ and breezeways all lead visitors through ever-changing views and scenery. Here the marvelous marble boat, there an old theatre, over there an island reached by small wooden boat and in the distance the hills, with a temple on the hillside, framed by dark trees.

The Summer Palace occupies a total area of more than 290 hectares. The Longevity Hill covers one fourth of the total area while the Kunming Lake covers the rest three quarters. The beautiful former imperial garden is set off by a multitude of highly decorated buildings, halls, pavilions, bridges, towers, pagodas, isles, and courtyards. The harmonious layout of the garden is a Chinese architectural masterpiece that combines both the gorgeous landscape and the treasure of the traditional Chinese gardening art.  

The history of the Summer Palace dated back to the Jin Dynasty, 800 years ago. However, it was during the prime time of the Qing Dynasty that the building of the imperial garden reached its culmination. The Summer Palace is reputed as the King of the Gardens though; it had undergone two nearly deadly devastations. In 1860 the Anglo-French Allied Forced invaded Beijing and the Summer Palace, together with many other imperial gardens and resorts, was burnt down to ashes. The invaders plundered the treasures from the garden and afterwards set fire on the buildings.   In 1888 during the reign of Emperor Guangxu (1875-1898), Empress Dowager Cixi spent a fabulous sum of money having the Garden partly rebuilt and she gave it the new name – the Summer Palace. She actually pinched the funding from the navy. 1n 1900 however the Allied Forces of Eight Powers invaded Beijing and the Summer Palace was once again ravaged by these foreign robbers. This time Empress Cixi and Emperor Guangxu fled to Xian. Two years later, they returned to Beijing and ordered the garden rebuilt. In 1924, after the last Emperor Puyi was driven out of the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace was turned from an imperial garden into a public park.

The Summer Palace can be divided into four parts: the court area, front-hill area, front-lake area, and rear-hill and back-lake area. Front-Hill Area: this area is the most magnificent area in the Summer Palace with the most constructions. Its layout is quite distinctive because of the central axis from the yard of Kunming Lake to the hilltop, on which important buildings are positioned including Gate of Dispelling Clouds, Hall of Dispelling Clouds, Hall of Moral Glory, Tower of Buddhist Incense, the Hall of the Sea of Wisdom, etc.

Rear-Hill and Back-Lake Area: although the constructions are fewer here, it has a unique landscape, with dense green trees, and winding paths. Visitors can feel a rare tranquility, and elegance. This area includes scenic spots such as Kunming Lake and Back Lake, which presents a tranquil beauty, Garden of Harmonious Interest, built by imitating the layout of Southern China's classical gardens, and Suzhou Market Street, endowed with a strong flavor of the water town Suzhou.

Court Area: this is where Empress Dowager Cixi and Emperor Guangxu met officials, conducted state affairs and rested. Entering the East Palace Gate, visitors may see the main palace buildings: the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity served as the office of the Emperor, the Hall of Jade Ripples where Guangxu lived, the Hall of Joyful Longevity, Cixi's residence, the Garden of Virtue and Harmony where Cixi was entertained, Yiyun House , where once lived the Empress Longyu, and Long Gallery, which measures the longest in Chinese gardens.

Front Lake Area: covering a larger part of the Summer Palace, opens up the vista of the lake. A breeze fluttering, waves gleam and willows kiss the ripples of the vast water. In this comfortable area there are the Eastern Bank and Western Bank, Seventeen-Arch Bridge, Nanhu Island, the largest island in Summer Palace, Bronze Ox, an imposing statue beside the lake, and Marble Boat, built in western style with elaborate decorations. On the western bank float six distinct bridges amongst which the Jade-Belt Bridge is the most beautiful.  

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