Beijing Travel Guide
The Summer Palace
The Summer Palace or Yihe yuan (literally "Gardens of Nurtured Harmony") is a palace in Beijing, China. The Summer Palace is mainly dominated by Longevity Hill (60 meters high) and the Kunming Lake. It covers an expanse of 2.9 square kilometers, three quarters of which is water. The central Kunming Lake covering 2.2 square kilometers was entirely man made and the excavated soil was used to build Longevity Hill. In the Summer Palace, one finds a variety of palaces, gardens, and other classical-style architectural structures.
The Summer Palace started out life as the Garden of Clear Ripples in 1750 (Reign Year 15 of Emperor Qianlong). Artisans reproduced the garden architecture styles of various palaces in China. Kunming Lake was created by extending an existing body of water to imitate the West Lake in Hangzhou. The palace complex suffered two major attacks--during the Anglo-French allied invasion of 1860 (with the Old Summer Palace also ransacked at the same time), and during the Boxer Rebellion, in an attack by the eight allied powers in 1900. The garden survived and was rebuilt in 1886 and 1902. In 1888, it was given the current name, Yihe Yuan. It served as a summer resort for Empress Dowager Cixi, who diverted 30 million taels of silver, said to be originally designated for the Chinese navy (Beiyang Fleet), into the reconstruction and enlargement of the Summer Palace.
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." It is a popular tourist destination but also serves as a recreational park.
The Summer Palace, located northwest of Beijing's center, is easily accessible from most parts of the city. Head north at Suzhou Bridge on the north-western 3rd Ring Road, north at Sihai Bridge on the north-western 4th Ring Road, or south at the northern 5th Ring Road at the Zhongguancun/Beiqing Road exit. Public transportation also serves the Summer Palace.
When the Jin Dynasty emperor Wányán Liàng moved his capital to the Beijing area, he had a Gold Mountain Palace built on the site of the hill. In the Yuan Dynasty, the hill was renamed from Gold Mountain to Jug Hill (Weng Shan). This name change is explained by a legend according to which a jar with a treasure inside was once found on the hill. The loss of the jar is said to have coincided with the fall of the Ming Dynasty as had been predicted by its finder.
The Qianlong Emperor of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), who commissioned work on the imperial gardens on the hill in 1749, gave Longevity Hill its present-day name in 1752, in celebration of his mother's 60th birthday. The hill is about 60 meters (196.9 feet) high and houses many buildings positioned in sequence. The front hill is rich in the splendid halls and pavilions, while the back hill, in sharp contrast, is quiet with natural beauty
On its southern slope, Longevity Hill is adorned with an ensemble of grand buildings: The Cloud-Dispelling Hall, the Temple of Buddhist Virtue, and the Sea of Wisdom Temple form a south-north (lakeside - peak) oriented axis which is flanked by various other buildings. In the center of the Temple of Buddhist Virtue stands the Tower of Buddhist Incense (Fo Xiang Ge), which forms the focal point for the buildings on the southern slope of Longevity Hill. The tower is built on a 20-meter-tall stone base, is 41 meters high with three stories and supported by eight ironwood (lignumvitae) pillars.