The Summer Palace in Beijing was commissioned in 1750 by Emperor Qianglong. It was destroyed by the Anglo-French Allied Forces during the second Opium war in the 1850’s and rebuilt in 1886. In 1888 it was renamed to Yih Yuan and became the summer resort for the Empress Dowager Cixi. The palace was again destroyed during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900 by the Allied Forces and rebuilt in 1912. It opened to the public in 1924 and was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1998.
The Summer Palace is an impressive work of art and pays tribute to Chinese landscape garden design that spans over several centuries, with natural landscapes and open water mingling with pavilions, halls, palaces, temples and bridges.
The Court Area is near the East Palace Gate and houses the buildings where Dowager Empress Cixi and Emperor Guangxu conducted government business. Here visitors will find the Garden of Virtue and Harmony- a 3-story theatre where famous Beijing Opera actors preformed for the Empress Dowager Cixi. There are numerous precious articles used by emperors and empresses and gifts presented to them displayed here.
Kunming Lake spans over nearly 75% of the park and hosts the famour 17 Arch Bridge. The bridge is 150 meters long and looks like a rainbow across the lake.
The Long Corridor can be found beside the lake. The corridor is decorated with beautiful paintings on the ceiling, competing with the spectacular views from this colonnade.
Longevity Hill homes intricately decorated gates, halls and temples in Han and Tibetan styles. With a Buddhist temple on the peak- offering the opportunity to engage in spiritual contemplation.
The only Western-style structure in the park is a marble boat with colourful windows and wheels and paved with coloured bricks.
The Suzhou Market Street can only be reached by boat and was frequented by Emperors and concubines who pretended to shop – everything was brought to them by servants.
True to its name, the best time to visit the Summer Palace is during summer. The lake is frozen during winter time, making boat rides on the river impossible.
The Summer Palace has been protected by the government, leaving its original design, planning and landscape preserved. It is the largest of its kind in China, and the perfect escape from the bustle of the city, only 15 km from central Beijing.
*A version of this article first appeared at www.zafigo.com