As its name implies, the Summer Palace was an imperial summer resort - an escape from the baking heat of the capital. It is a delightful collection of halls, shaded corridors, pavilions and gardens, set on a wooded hillside on the shore of an artificial lake. Its basic layout dates from the 18th century, when it was extensively remodeled by the emperior Qianlong, but in 1860 foreign troops on a punitive raid on Beijing burned it to the ground. It was rebuilt in 1888 under the guidance of the Dowager Empress Cixi, who loved the complex, and diverted funds from the Chinese navy for the project. Then the Summer Palace was destroyed again in 1900 by foreign forces as a reprisal for the Boxer Rebellion, and again it was rebuilt to Cixi's design. Today, it one of China's grandest museum gardens.
Prior to its destruction in 1860, it was named Qingyi Yuan, meaning Garden of Clear Ripples. After reconstruction, it was named Yihe Yuan - Garden of Health and Harmony. Major attractions of the palace include the Four Great Regions, Suzhou Street, the Pavilion of Bright Scenery, the Hall of Serenity, the Wenchang Galleries and the Plowing and Weaving Scenic Area. The Front Hill area is probably the most magnificent area in the Summer Palace, comprised of many grand buildings. Most impressive are the Gate of Dispelling Clouds, Hall of Dispelling Clouds, Hall of Moral Glory, Tower of Buddhist Incense, and The Hall of the Sea Wisdom, all which are aligned in a north-south axis with Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake to its west. The Rear-hill and back-lake area are tranquil garden settings with few structures. The area does have a few scenic spots including Harmonious Interest, where the emperor and the empress would go fishing and Suzhou Market Street, a faux business street where eunuchs would act as shopkeepers, hawkers and customers to entertain the emperor and empress.
In ancient times, Empress Dowager Cixi and Emperor Guangxu would meet officials and conduct state affairs in the Court Area. The East Palace Gate was reserved for the Emperor and Empress exclusively. Emperor Guangxu wrote the front plaque above Yiheyuan. From here, visitors can view the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity, which served as the office of the Emperor; the Hall of Jade Ripples, which served as Guangxu; the Hall of Joyful Longevity, which is where Empress Cixi lived; and, Hall of Virtue and Harmony where Cixi was entertained.
The Front-lake area, which covers the majority of the Summer Palace, offers a great panoramic view of the lake. The area is known as the home of the superb Seventeen-arch bridge, which acts as a causeway to Nanhu Island where visitors can enjoy a vista of the causeway and the northern part of Palace. Last but not least, Western bank, a replica of the Su Causeway of West Lake in Hangzhou possesses no man-made buildings except Jade Belt Bridge, which was made out of marble and white stone.
Note: price dose not include admission to Garden of Virtue and Harmony, Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha, Wenchang Gallery and Suzhou Street & Hall of Serenity.
Service: English tour guides are available.
Great scenery. Love it in autumn for the beautiful golden leaves of the trees surrounding the lake. A haven of peace and beauty in hectic Beijing (avoid week ends though). I have been there more than 5 times and there is so much to see that I always discover something new. Like great novels or movies that you could read or watch again and again, the Summer Palace is a picture that keeps drawing itself every time you set foot there. And the memories you will take back home from this place, will never quite fade away.