Beijing, the capital of China, is home to numerous historical and cultural treasures. Among its most famous attractions is the Summer Palace, an enchanting imperial garden renowned for its stunning architecture, tranquil landscapes, and rich history. A marvel of Chinese garden design and one of Beijing’s must-see attractions, the Summer Place was the royal retreat for emperors fleeing the suffocating summer lethargy of the former imperial city, and most recently, it was the retirement playground of Empress Dowager Cixi. It takes an entire day’s exploration, although having a high pace morning or afternoon exploring its waterways, pavilions, bridges, and temples may suffice. This blog post aims to give a comprehensive overview of the Summer Palace in Beijing, delving into its origins, key features, and the unforgettable experience it offers visitors.
Origins and Historical Significance
The Summer Palace, known as Yiheyuan in Chinese, was built during the Qing Dynasty in 1750 and served as a royal retreat for emperors to escape the summer heat of the Forbidden City. The palace was extensively renovated and expanded over the years, with its grandeur reaching its peak during the reign of Empress Dowager Cixi.
Why is the Summer Palace Famous?
The Summer Palace in Beijing was listed as a World Heritage in 1998. UNESCO reported that the Summer Palace is a Chinese landscape garden design masterpiece.
Layout and Architectural Marvels
The Summer Palace spans a vast area of 2.9 square kilometers, with over three-quarters occupied by Kunming Lake. The palace complex consists of various structures, including temples, halls, bridges, pavilions, and corridors, all meticulously outlined to blend harmoniously with the natural landscape. The architectural style predominantly found in the Summer Palace is traditional Chinese architecture, characterized by intricate details, vibrant colors, and exquisite craftsmanship.
Iconic Attractions of The Summer Palace
Let’s discuss some of the iconic attractions of the Summer Palace that are must visiting
1. The Hall of Benevolence:
One of the most iconic structures within the Summer Palace is the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity (Renshoudian). This magnificent hall was the main audience hall where the emperor would meet with officials and conduct essential ceremonies. Its splendid decorations and grandeur reflect the imperial power and luxury of the Qing Dynasty.
2. The Long Corridor:
Another notable feature of the Summer Palace is the Long Corridor, extending for about 728 meters along the eastern shore of Kunming Lake. This covered walkway is adorned with more than 14,000 colorful paintings depicting scenes from Chinese folklore, historical events, and natural landscapes. Taking a stroll along the Long Corridor is a delightful experience that allows you to immerse yourself in the artistic beauty of Chinese culture.
3. Kunming Lake and Longevity Hill:
The natural landscape of the Summer Palace is equally captivating, with Kunming Lake and Longevity Hill serving as the centerpiece. Kunming Lake, covering an area of 2.2 square kilometers, is an artificial lake created to mimic the scenic beauty of the West Lake in Hangzhou. Visitors can take a boat ride on the lake, enjoying picturesque views of the surrounding hills, pavilions, and bridges.
4. The Tower of Buddhist Incense:
At the foot of Longevity Hill lies the Tower of Buddhist Incense (Foxiangge), a towering structure that provides a scenic view of the entire palace complex. Climbing up the hill allows you to explore numerous temples and pagodas in its lush greenery. The climb is rewarded with breathtaking vistas and a sense of tranquility, making it an unforgettable experience.
5. Sea of Wisdom:
It is located on the peak of Longevity Hill. The outer layer of the building is decorated with exquisite yellow and green glazed tiles.
6. The Marble Boat:
At the lake’s northern edge, the Marble Boat is a decorative building that mimics a real boat. Erected in 1755, it is the only Western-style structure in the Summer Park, inlaid with colorful glass windows and wheels, paved with colored bricks.
7. Hall of Jade Ripples:
This hall was the living quarters of Emperor Guangxu(1871-1908). When Empress Dowager Cixi gained absolute power, Guangxu was confined there.
Cultural Importance and UNESCO World Heritage Site
Recognizing its historical and cultural value, the Summer Palace was appointed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998. It is considered a Chinese landscape garden design masterpiece, reflecting the harmony between artificial structures and natural elements. The palace’s cultural significance extends beyond its architectural beauty, as it has been the setting for important political events, imperial ceremonies, and gatherings throughout history.
Must-See Highlights and Visitor Tips
When visiting the Summer Palace, plan your trip to make the most of your experience. Here are some tips and must-see highlights:
- Visit during weekdays or early mornings to avoid crowds.
- Wear comfortable shoes, as the palace grounds are extensive.
- Take advantage of the famous Marble Boat, a pavilion sitting on the western shore of Kunming Lake.
- Explore the intricately designed Suzhou Street, a replica of a traditional Chinese marketplace.
- Take a boat ride on Kunming Lake to appreciate the palace from a different perspective.
The Summer Palace in Beijing is a testament to China’s rich history, architectural brilliance, and natural beauty. It offers visitors a captivating journey through imperial grandeur, serene landscapes, and a deep connection to Chinese culture. Whether you are a history enthusiast, an architecture lover, or simply seeking tranquility amidst breathtaking scenery, a visit to the Summer Palace is an experience that will leave an unforgettable mark on your memory.