Beijing's Summer Palace was the summer retreat of China's ancient emperors. As soon as Beijing became too hot, the emperor, his empress, concubines, and the entire retinue all traveled to the Summer Palace located in the northwestern suburbs of Beijing. The Summer Palace was first built by the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) emperor Qianlong as a gift for his mother's birthday. Listed on UNESCO's Cultural Heritage List in 1998, the Summer Palace is a favorite destination for all Beijing tours.
The Summer Palace is a masterpiece of Chinese garden design. What intrigues visitors most, besides the obvious majesty, beauty, and size of the garden, is the fact that it was all built as the private playground of a single person. There are innumerable stunning sites in the Summer Palace. Most visitors enter the East Palace Gate. Upon entering the gate the first palace encountered is the Palace of Benevolent Longevity (Renshoudian). This was the main area used for political activities, like the Palace of Supreme Harmony in the Forbidden City, this is the place where the emperors met with officials and handled state affairs when they were in the Summer Palace. Imperial officials meeting with the emperor could enter the Summer Palace at the East Palace Gate meet the emperor and leave without ever seeing any of the private areas of the palace.
Behind the Palace of Benevolent Longevity are the private areas of the Emperor. The entire area is built around Kunming Lake. The area surrounding Kunming Lake is made up of sprawling palace complexes, temples, traditional gardens, and beautiful pagodas. The lake, which was much smaller, was dredged to its current size during the Qing Dynasty. The earth from the project was piled up on one side of the lake and Wangshou Hill was constructed from it. Scattered around the hill are exquisite buildings of all descriptions. There are small pavilions for resting, manmade caves for cooling down in, pagodas for reverence, and meandering paths connecting them all together. At the peak of the mountain is a large temple complex. The main building named Tower for Incense to The Buddha is a massive three-story, four-tiered octagonal pagoda perched on the top of the hill and overlooks the entire Summer Palace. It sits among a group of pavilions and buildings which once held important books, manuscripts, and Buddhist Sutras. The buildings and gardens constructed on the hill are exquisite in detail and no expense was spared in their construction.
Located along the north shore of Kunming Lake is the amazing Long Corridor. It is 728 meters long and is covered with more than 8000 paintings of Chinese Mythology as well as 546 paintings of the West Lake. Many of the murals depict stories of battles and mythological events. The Long Corridor links the living quarters with the sightseeing areas. The main function of the Long Corridor was to allow the emperor to wander along Kunming Lake enjoying the scenery while staying out of the weather.
One of the most famous sites in the Summer Palace is the spectacular Marble Boat. Built entirely of marble, this boat is 36 meters long and has two levels. The huge marble boat's foundation is built deep under Kunming Lake and is supposed to be unsinkable, indicating that the rule of the Qing Dynasty would be as firm and unsinkable as the Marble Boat.
The 17 Arch Marble Bridge, which links the eastern bank of Kunming Lake with the South Lake Island, is 150 meters long and topped by 540 stone lions each in a different pose.
The Summer Palace is a truly spectacular place. Its size and majesty never fail to leave a lasting impression on visitors. This world treasure was built for the sole enjoyment of one man but now is enjoyed by millions of visitors each year. Visiting the Summer Palace's spectacular buildings and beautiful gardens is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.
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