Situated in the Haidian District northwest of Beijing City, the Summer Palace is 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) from central Beijing. Being the largest and most well-preserved royal park in China, it greatly influences Chinese horticulture and landscape with its famous natural views and cultural interests, which also has long since been recognized as ‘The Museum of Royal Gardens’.
The construction started in 1750 as a luxurious royal garden for royal families to rest and entertain. It later became the main residence of royal members in the end of the Qing Dynasty. However, like most of the gardens of Beijing, it could not elude the rampages of the Anglo-French Allied Force and was destroyed by fire. According to historical documents, with original name as ‘Qingyi Garden’ (Garden of Clear Ripples), the Summer Palace (Yiheyuan) was renamed after its first reconstruction in 1888. It was also recorded that Empress Dowager Cixi embezzled navy funds to reconstruct it as a resort in which to spend the rest of her life. In 1900, the Summer Palace suffered another hit by the Eight-Power Allied Force and was repaired in the next two years. In 1924, it was open to the public. It ranked amongst the World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 1998, as well as one of the first national AAAAA tourist spots in China.
The Summer Palace radiates fully the natural beauty and the grandeur of royal gardens. Composed mainly of Longevity Hill (Wanshou Shan) and Kunming Lake, it occupies an area of 300.59 hectares (742.8 acres). There are over 3,000 man-made ancient structures which count building space of more than 70,000 square meters, including pavilions, towers, bridges, corridors, etc. It can be divided into four parts: the Court Area, Front Hill Area, Rear Hill Area and Lake Area.
The Court Area is located in the northeast of the Summer Palace, and it spreads from East Palace Gate to the northeast coast of Kunming Lake. This was a substitute where Empress Dowager Cixi and Emperor Guangxu met officials and conducted state affairs. With the same pattern of the imperial palace of China-‘Palace in front and garden behind’, the Court Area consists of sections for both court affairs and living. East Palace Gate and Hall of Benevolence and Longevity served as office of the Emperor. The Hall of Jade Ripples was for Guangxu to live in and the Hall of Joyful Longevity for Cixi. There are also the Garden of Virtue and Harmony where Cixi was entertained and Yiyun Hall where once lived the Empress Longyu. Moreover, this area is an integrated transport hub and the first best stop for visitors to enjoy attractive view of Kunming Lake and Longevity Hill.
Front-Hill Area is the most magnificent area with the most constructions. It is symmetrically laid out in east and west many delicate buildings and graceful gardens with the south-facing Tower of Buddhist Incense as the central axis. Walking up to the hilltop, on which lots of important buildings are positioned, including Hall of Dispelling Clouds, Hall of Moral Glory, Baoyun Bronze Pavilion, Revolving Archives, Hall of the Sea of Wisdom, etc.
Lake Area covers a larger part, and opens up the vista of Kunming Lake, as well as the sights around Back Lake (Houxi River). East Causeway of the lake is connected to the West Causeway by Long Gallery, which both were interspersed with pavilions, bridges and wharfs. Famous attractions amongst this area are numerous, including Seventeen-Arch Bridge, Bronze Ox, Nanhu Island, Hall of Embracing the Universe, Spacious Pavilion, Pavilion of Bright Scenery, Marble Boat, Suzhou Market Street, etc. As breeze fluttering, waves gleam and willows kiss the ripples of the vast water, the highlights can’t be let off from any of the delightful scenery above.
Rear-Hill Area is quiet as compared to Front Hill Area. Most constructions were never able to be repaired after wars, only a few ruins are left. In the axis of Rear Hill Area, there used to be a religious building group-Houda Temple, a composite structure with both Han and Tibetan characters. Although the constructions are fewer here, it has a unique landscape with dense green trees and winding paths. Strolling here, visitors can feel a rare tranquility and elegance. Famous scenic spots include Garden of Harmonious Interests, Hall of Increasing Longevity, Four Great Regions, Presence of Virtue Temple and Hall of Serenity, etc.