Summer Palace

Beijing Summer PalaceThe Summer Palace, one of the finest examples garden architecture in China, is located in the northwest suburbs of Beijing.

The 100-odd examples of traditional architecture in the park include pavilions, terraces, temples, pagodas, waterside gazebos, covered corridors, stone bridges and the famous marble boat.

The palace occupies a total area of 290 hectares, three quarters of which is made up of shallow lakes.

This dominion of palace temples, gardens, pavilions, lake and corridors was once a playground for the imperial court. Royalty came here to elude the insufferable summer heat that roasted the Forbidden City. The tranquil Kunming Lake takes up three-quarters of the park.

The Summer Palace with its cool features - water, gardens and hills - was the palace of choice for vacationing emperors and Dowager Empresses. It was badly damaged by Anglo-French troops during the Second Opium War (1860) and its restoration became a pet project of Empress Dowager Cixi, the last of the Qing dynasty rulers.

Money earmarked for a modern navy was used for the project but, in a bit of whimsical irony, the only thing that was completed was the restoration of a marble boat. The boat now sits at the edge of the lake in all its immobile and nonmilitary glory. The Palace's full restoration was hampered by the disintegration of the Qing dynasty and the Boxer Rebellion.

The park is packed with with Beijing residents in Summer, taking full advantage of Kunming Lake, which takes up three-quarters of the park. The main building is the lyrically named Hall of Benevolence and Longevity, while along the north shore is the Long Corridor, so named because it's, well, long. There's over 700m (2300ft) of corridor, filled with mythical paintings and scenes. If some of the paintings have a newish patina, that's because many of the murals were painted over during the Cultural Revolution.

With its handsome buildings, pretty scenery and tumultuous history, the Summer Palace is a wonderful place to explore.


Must See

Most of the major sights are concentrated in the northern part of the compound. Near the East Place Gate, the entry point for most tourists is the Hall of Benevolent Longevity, where Cixi held court on her hardwood throne. A short walk away, on the shore of Kunming Lake, is the Hall of Jade Ripples where Emperor Guangxu, Cixi's nephew, was held under house arrest on Cixi's orders for daring to undermine her authority.

The Hall for Cultivating Happiness is the name of Cixi's delightful private theater that was built for her 60th birthday, Nearby is a display that includes a Mercedes Benz, the first car imported into China. The Empress Dowager lived in the Hall of Happiness and Longevity, which is decoratedwith many perild pieces.

These private apartments open up to the most arresting construction in the Summer Palace, the Long Corridor. More than 700m long and edingat the Marble Boat, this shaded walway is decorated with some 10,000 painted scenes, each one different. Paths lead off from the Long Corridor to the temple complex atop Longvity Hill, which includes the Buddhist Incense Tower and the tiled Temple of the Sea of Wisdom. The climb will be rewarded with sweeping views of the Summer Palace and the Fragrant Hills.

The vast Summer Palace compound centers on Kumming Lake. In summer, vistors can explore the lake on boat, and skate across its frozen expanse in the Winter. The highly photogenic 17 Arch Bridge links the lake's eastern shore to South Lake Island. The most pleasurable way to escape the crowds is to take a leisurely stroll on the willow-shaded paths and arched bridges that encircle the lake bring your camera and picnic.