Location: Haidian District, at the northwest suburb of Beijing (15 km away from city center), Beijing Municipality
Opening time: 07:00-17:00 (Nov.1 – Mar.31, low season of tourism)
06:30-18:00 (Apr.1 – Oct.31, peak season of tourism)
– Docks: Bafang Pavilion (八方亭), Wenchang Pavilion (文昌阁), Jade Ripples Hall (玉澜堂), Hall of Dispelling Clouds (排云殿), Shizhang Pavilion (石丈亭), the Statue of Bronze Ox (铜牛), the Marble Boat (石舫), South Lake Island (南湖岛)
– Boats available: rowing boat, battery boat, water cycle, dragon-shaped boat, large-scale pleasure boats as well as chartered boats.
– Time for boat chartering: 08:00-17:00 (day time); 18:00-22:00 (night time)
How to get to Summer Palace:
– Subway: take Line 4and get off at Bei Gong Men (北宫门 North Palace Gate); or get off at Xiyuan Station (西苑站, Exit C2) and walk for 500 meters westward until see the Gong Gong Men (东宫门 East Palace Gate, the main entrance of Summer Palace).
– Bus: 74, 209, 303, 319, 320, 330, 331,332, 333 (both inner and outer ring routes), 346, 374, 375, 384, 394, 432, 437, 438, 469, 498, 539, 628, 664, 683, 690, 696, 704, 716, 718, 726, 732, 737, 801, 808, 817, 826, 904, 905, 907 and 952.
Best time for visit: September. Snow landscapes in winter are also some of the most gorgeous.
Recommended time for a visit: from 1.5 hours to half a day, not less!
The Emperors’ Summer Imperial retreat place and largest garden in China
The Summer Palace, also called “Yi He Yuan” (颐和园) literally meaning “the Garden of Restful Peace” in Chinese, is one of the most visited scenic spots together with the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven or Great Wall in Beijing city. Immense garden at a few kilometers away from the city, the Summer Palace holds its name to perfection as this was where emperors and the imperial family used to retreat at summer time, away from the heat that was burning the Forbidden City. This ancient royal garden is beautifully composed of palaces, temples, gardens, pavilions, lakes and corridors fully radiating the natural beauty and the grandeur of imperial gardens. As the largest garden in China, the Summer Palace is today the center of interests of all tourists coming to visit Beijing and its many cultural and historical relics. Looking like a part of Heaven after visiting the turmoil of Beijing city center, the Summer Palace is the place where to have a rest to discover the amazing architecture of the park invented hundred of years ago during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).
History around the Summer Palace
The Summer Palace started to be constructed in 1750 under the orders of Emperor Qianlong (1735-1796). Originally called “The Garden of Clear Ripples” (清漪园Qing Yi Yuan) the garden was considerably enlarged and embellished after the gigantesque work of the 100 000 laborers who worked on this imperial retreat for years. Like during many other historical events, the garden burned down with the invasion of Anglo-French troops in 1860 during the Second Opium War (1856-1860). That was just after the reconstruction of the garden under Empress Dowager Cixi’s reign in 1888 that the garden was renamed the “Summer Palace”. Being a place inspiring peace and harmony, the Summer Palace progressively started to be the permanent residence of the Imperial family that constructed pavilions and other small parts of the actual park that we can visit today. Burnt down a second time in 1900 after the Boxer Rebellion (1898-1901) and reconstructed another time, the Summer Palace was opened to public in 1924. This was only in 1998 that the great beauty of the garden was revealed after the recognition of the site as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage as well as a National 5A Tourist Spot of China.
Features of the Summer Palace
The Summer Palace is China’s largest and most grandiose garden ever constructed. Covering an area of 2,9 km2, three quarters of which are covered of water, the palace is composed of over 3000 ancient structures including pavilions, towers, bridges and corridors. The Summer Palace is composed of 3 main areas:
– The Palace Area (for administration): is where ancient emperors used to take care of state affairs. There stands the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity (仁寿殿), where Empress Dowager Cixi held court behind a screen in most of the time of her late years.
– The Residence Area (for living): Jade Ripples Hall (玉澜堂), Hall of Joyful Longevity Hall (乐寿堂) and Yiyun Hall (宜芸馆)constitute the main bodies of this area where emperors and the royal family used to live during summer.
– The Tour Area (for relaxation): landscapes, buildings, flowers and plants appreciated by the royal family for its peaceful atmosphere.
All the Summer Palace spreads across the low hills and lakes among which the Longevity Hill (万寿山), and Kunming Lake (昆明湖) are the most important parts. Travelers visiting the site today have the opportunity to wander in the wonderful buildings and courtyards beside the lake and along the waterways. Arched bridges, promenades, decorated corridors and breezeways, an ever-changing scenery is waiting for visitors!
What to see in The Summer Palace today?
When visiting the Summer Palace, visitors should plan between one hour and a half to half a day for the site is really huge. Indeed, there are so many things to see in the palace that you will feel time spending quickly, realizing how life spent smoothly for emperors during their summer retreat. Involving plenty of walking, the Summer Palace is the place where experiencing different activities on top of little promenades.
Riding a little boat for seeing the lake areas, watching a traditional Chinese dance performance at the Palace’s Theatre or doing some shopping in the many traditional shops by the river…the Summer Palace is without any contests the lovelier scenic spot in Beijing city. Though not fully opened to the public, some interesting buildings can be visited flourishing with many ancient designs and decorations. Clearly, the park is divided into 4 several sections that are the Court Area, the Front-Hill Area, the Longevity Hill Area and the Kunming Lake Area. In the park, an integrated transport hub is at the disposal of visitors who may first stop at the Kunming Lake and Longevity Hill.
1. Court Area
The Court Area is located in the northeast of the park, spreading from the East Palace Gate to the northeast coast of Kunming Lake. It is remembered as the place where the famous (though terrific) Empress Dowager Cixi (ruling from 1861-1908) and Emperor Guangxu (1875-1908) used to reside, conducting state affairs though away from central Beijing and the Forbidden City. This area of the park is where seeing numbers of Halls and courtyards displaying the exact same architecture than other imperial places: a palace in the front and the garden behind it.
The East Palace Gate
Called “Dong Gong Men” (东宫门) in Chinese, the East Palace Gate is the major entrance to the Summer Palace with two side doors: the main door in the middle exclusively reserved to emperors, empresses and queen mothers and the side one for officials. The road leading to the entrance for emperors is chiseled with two relief dragons playing with a ball: a symbol of Chinese imperial dignity.
Upon entering the Gate, visitors will be impressed by the three big and vigorous characters meaning the Summer Palace in Chinese: 颐和园 (Yi He Yuan). It is said to be the handwriting of Emperor Guangxu who ruled the country from 1875 to 1908 under the supervision of Empress Dowager Cixi. The origin of these 3 characters is the center of a story passed for years from generation to generation. Indeed, during the restoration of the Summer Palace, craftsmen asked for Emperor Guangxu’s own writing on the plaque to be disposed at the entrance of the Summer Palace. Pleased to accept their request, Emperor Guangxu wrote the three words of “颐和园”. Angry at its nephew’s calligraphy, Empress Dowager Cixi ordered to take off the characters, forcing then Guangxu to realize his bad writing and start to take lessons of calligraphy. After earnest efforts, the emperor finally succeeded in writing the characters in a proper way, using just one stroke. Satisfactory work, his writing is now to be admired at the East Palace Gate.
True or not, the characters at the entrance give to the Summer Palace a spiritual and forceful meaning showing the great sceneries and historical relics that are to be discovered in the park. By entering the East Palace Gate, visitors are walking into the state affairs and administrative area of emperors.
The Hall of Benevolence and Longevity
The Hall of Benevolence and Longevity (仁寿殿, Ren Shou Dian) is the first architectural complex to be seen by visitors when entering the site. Built in 1750 but burned down in 1860 by the Anglo-French forces, it was reconstructed in 1888 under the rule of Empress Dowager Cixi and Emperor Guangxu. This hall was originally called “Qinzheng Hall” to inspire rulers to manage state affairs diligently. However, during Emperor Guangxu’s time (1875-1908), the hall’s name was changed to the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity due to the famous Confucian saying: “The ruler who reigns benevolently will have a long life”.
In front of the hall stand bronze phoenixes and dragons of a great beauty. In the courtyard, 4 unusual stones dark in color and with holes, represent the four seasons of the year such as in many other Imperial buildings where symbolism was used a lot to express Emperor’s rule coming from the Heaven’s decision. In the hall, several items can be admired such as a throne, a wall screen, some decorative fans made of peacock feather, incense burners, crane-shaped lights, etc… Exceptional among this list, the wall screen is a curiosity for it has 9 dragons and 226 times the Chinese character “Longevity” (寿), written in different styles. Located at the north of the Hall is the Well of Prolonging Life (延年井Yan Nian Jing) that is said to have saved Empress Dowager Cixi’s life after she caught a sunstroke.
The Garden/Hall of Virtue and Harmony
The Garden of Virtue and Harmony (德和园 De He yuan) is where the Emperors and the Empress Dowager Cixi were used to be entertained. Performances of the Peking opera and many other theatrical shows were used to be held there for the pleasure and entertainment of the Imperial family. This garden consists of the Grand Theater Building, the Hall of Nurtured Joy, and the Dressing House.
The theatre building, 21 meters high (69 feet) and 17 meters wide (56 feet), consists of three stories stages with colorful and multiple eaves elegantly raised on every corners. From top to bottom, there are: The Fu Stage (Happiness Stage), The Lu Stage (Affluence Stage), and The Shou Stage (Longevity Stage).
Some inventive raise catwalks in the ceilings and a winch on the top of the floor are present, an ingenuous design that could create an impression of movement to the performers. Each stage was made of trapdoors. A well and pond is located beneath the Shou Stage (Longevity Stage) for it could suddenly come out creating a water scene as well as amplify a sound effect thanks to acoustic resonance. The lighting and sound systems heighten the whole effect.
Today, the garden is converted into an exhibition hall to display the daily utensils used by the Imperial family, including bronze wares, porcelains, jade articles and other precious objects.
The Hall of Joyful Longevity
This Hall was one of the first constructed under the reign of Emperor Qianlong (1711-1799) in order to make it a residence for his mother. Located at the northeast of the Summer Palace near to the Kunming Lake, the building unfortunately burnt down after the Anglo-French occupation in the 1860s, and was restored under Empress Dowager Cixi. The Empress took a real pleasure in spending her time in this Hall with her 48 attendants and a retinue of over a thousand people accompanying her inside the Summer Palace. Called Le Shou Tang (乐寿堂) in Chinese, the name has not been given without hazard as this is a tribute to the Analects of Confucius. Indeed, saying that “persons with wisdom are joyous, with benevolence longevous”, the Emperor followed the rule looking for the longest reign on Earth for he was said to be the Son of the Heaven.
The Hall is where seeing a well-decorated throne, fans, copper incense burners, desk and rosewood inlaid shell carving glass screen. Porcelain tracing back from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) is also to be seen, a cultural relic that ranks as one of the most precious in China. On the ceiling of the Hall is a colorful pendant lamp that has been imported from Germany in 1903. At the east of the hall stands the inner chamber in and bedroom of Empress Cixi; at the west, the dressing room and at the behind it all the place where maid servants waited for order. When passing through the front gate, visitors will find themselves directing to the Kunming Lake, where boats were and still are docked. Finally, the Hall of Joyful Longevity is also composed of a small courtyard garden in which Emperors used to relax as well as impress visitors. Filled with flowers of any kinds representing peace, prosperity and having also the power to cure diseases, the garden was a great pride of the Court Area.
The Hall of Jade Ripples
The Hall of Jade Ripples, also called “Sanhe yuan” for it was a hint at the Jin Dynasty verse (265-316): “Jade spring with rippling water” is one of the most impressive place that had an important role in History. Built in 1726, under the reign of Emperor Qianlong (1711-1799), the building burnt down like many others during periods of evil, but was restored later on. Known as a place notable for its seclusion and harmonious arrangement, the Hall of Jade Ripples started to have another function after 1898, when The Hundred Days Reform led by Emperor Guangxu failed. Indeed, the reform aiming at reforming the outdated feudal system by creating a new edict had received a sharp disagreement from Empress Dowager Cixi that arrested Emperor Guangxu and placed him in the Hall of Jade Ripples, secluded from the outside world. Symbolic act of this disagreement was the separation of the two rocks located in front of the Hall that used to represent Cixi and Guangxu.
During his long life confinement, Guangxu used to live between his day room and his bedchamber. The chamber, located at the east of the Hall is a cozy one. Facing it, the day room is still today where seeing the Emperor’s desk made of rosewood and decorated with exquisite carvings.
The Yiyun House/Hall
Last Empress of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Empress Longyu, wife of Emperor Guangxu used to live in the Yiyuan Hall. Not beloved by her husband who preferred to spend more times with his concubines, the Empress passed her lonely days in that house located to the north of the Hall of Jade Ripples. Built during the reign of Emperor Qianlong and repaired in the reign of Emperor Guangxu, this literally “convenient to collect and read books” hall is embodying to perfection the elegance and knowledge of Empress Longyun.
Constructed in traditional Chinese “Siheyuan (四合院)” style, the Yiyun Hall is composed of 5 front rooms, 3 back rooms, 5 eastern affiliated rooms (Dao Cun Zhai) and 5 western affiliated rooms (Jin Xi Xuan), the affiliated being home to the Emperors’ concubines in summer time. All the rooms are filled with splendid curiosities such as furnitures, precious stones and flower patterns cupboard.
Though located near to the lodging of Emperor Guangxu, the Yiyun Hall was not that accessible by the Emperor after the Reform Movement. Another confinement preventing him to enjoy his time seeing his different lovers.
2. Longevity Hill Area
The Longevity Hall is definitely the most magnificent area in the Summer Palace. Area where stand most of the buildings tracing back from the Qing Dynasty, its architecture is a curiosity for it follows an east-west symmetry where many buildings and gardens are to appreciate:
The Longevity Hill
Originally called the Wengshan Hill, the marvelous Longevity Hill was renamed by Emperor Qianlong in 1752, during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), at the time he ordered the construction of the garden. Of a 60 meters high (196.9 feet), the Hill is surrounded by many houses and buildings where relaxing among a gorgeous natural beauty.
At the foot of the front Hill, stands an ancient-style archway making the main entrance for climbing the hill. On the way up to the top, visitors may see the major buildings neatly ordered along a north-south ascending axis:
– The Gate of Dispelling Clouds (Paiyunmen)
– The Second Palace Gate (Ergongmen)
– The Hall of Dispelling Clouds (Paiyundian)
– The Hall of Moral Glory (Dehuidian)
– The Tower of Buddhist Incense (Foxiangge)
– The Hall of the Sea of Wisdom: on top of the hill
Mainly concentrated on the front hill, buildings are also present in the back such as the noteworthy miniature Potala Palace building in Tibetan lamasery style.
The Baoyun Pavilion
Located at the west of the Tower of Buddhist Incense (Foxiangge) on Longevity Hill, stands the Baoyun Pavilion (Baoyunge). Made of bronze, the building is often referred to as the “Golden Pavilion”, one of China’s three best preserved bronze buildings still existing today in the country. The architecture of the Baoyun Pavilion is something to pay attention to as it is a double-eaved roof of a 7.55 meters high imposing itself near to the Longevity Hill. Every single part of the pavilion is a curiosity for it is delicately carved and ornate with bright colors, bright marble in Buddhist style, pillars, tiles and bells.
During the reign of Emperor Qianlong (1736-1795), Lamas coming from Tibet stopped in the Summer Palace and this exact pavilion to pray for the Imperial family on the 1st and 15th day of each lunar month, especially during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). Buddha figures used to be hung on the brackets during ceremonies. In order to pay tribute to the people who casted the pavilion, their names have been engraved on the inner wall (Hanzhong, Yangguozhu, Gaoyonggu and Zhangcheng). Great method tracing back from China oldest ancient times, the casting savoir faire is one of the most precious building methods consisting in casting every single component separately. Surviving many fires, wars and calamities, the Baoyun Pavilion is a jewel around which a mystery developed after the thefts of 10 bronze windows weighing around 100 kilos each, unfound for around 70 years and suddenly reappearing, blackmailing the government to pay for money to see the windows again. Back to there original place after 90 years, the mystery over their original theft is still on today.
The Long Corridor/Gallery
The Long Corridor is a 728 meters long (796.2 yards) gallery linking the Longevity Hill to the Kunming Lake. Longest corridor gallery in China, the building was even ranked as the longest one in the whole world in 1990. Used as a perfect promenade along the lakes, the Long corridor is a unique art gallery, featuring more than 14,000 pictures of landscapes, flowers, birds, human figures and stories on its beams and ceilings. Real carrier of China’s ancient history, the corridor is giving an additional touch to the place surrounded by an amazing natural scenery. Smart connecter and primary route for visiting the whole garden, the Long corridor is a must see building in the Summer Palace.
The Hall of Dispelling Clouds
The Hall of Dispelling Clouds (排云殿Pai Yun Dian) is one of the most typical buildings of the Summer Palace. Red columns, golden yellow tiles roof and white marble balusters adorned with bronze dragons, phoenixes and vessels. Inside the hall, a throne is to be seen surrounded by a screen, incense burners and some fans. Ancient and elegant, the screen is an enamelwork embedded in a red backing. Together with the adjoining wing halls, the Hall of Dispelling Clouds has 21 rooms all of which are connected by cloisters.
Although the treasures on display inside are fewer than those in the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity, some of them are more valuable. Indeed, the beautiful middle rosewood throne with a dragon-in-clouds design, gorgeous sculpture, and fluid lines, is regarded as an awe-inspiring work of art. Each sides of the throne is surrounded by articles shaped in the Chinese character “寿” (shou), meaning longevity.
To the south of the Hall of Dispelling Clouds, visitors can direct themselves to the Gate of Dispelling Clouds located in the middle of the Long Corridor, dividing the corridor from east to west. The usual bronze lions standing on each sides of the door are symbolizing protection, and 12 stone statues of the Chinese zodiac animals: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig, the Imperial devotion to the universal system and the Heaven.
The Tower of Buddhist Incense
Symbol of the Summer Palace, the Tower of Buddhist Incense (佛香阁Fo Xiang Ge) is an elaborate work of Chinese classical architecture. Located on a hill in the center of the Summer Palace with buildings distributed symmetrically around its base, the tower is of a 40 meters height (131 feet), three-storied with 8 facades and quadruple-layered eaves, the whole supported by 8 pillars of lignum vitae wood: one of the most complicated structure ever realized.
Noteworthy building in the vicinity of the Tower of Buddhist Incense is the Precious Cloud Pavilion (宝云阁Bao Yun Ge) located to the west of the tower. In order to enjoy a panoramic view of the area, travelers are invited to climb up to the tower.
As an Imperial worshipping tower, it enshrines a Buddha made in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and called “the Buddha with One Thousand Hands and Eyes”. Elegant and dignified, the statue is 5 meters high (16 feet) with 12 heads and 24 arms. Empress Dowager Cixi used to burn incense and pray in the tower on the 1st and 15th days of every lunar month.
The Hall of the Sea of Wisdom
The Hall of the Sea Wisdom (智慧海 Zhi Hui Hai) is the Summer Palace’s building that symbolizes the mighty force and the infinite wisdom of Tathagada Buddha. Built on the pinnacle of the Longevity Hill, the Hall has been designed to stand at the upper end of an axis stretching from the Kunming Lake to the summit. When initially built during the reign of Emperor Qianlong (1711-1799), it was a 2-storied building entirely made of colored glaze bricks, without any timber beams: a realization known as the “No Beam Hall”. Thanks to its timber-free frame, the hall survived the fire set by the Anglo-French allied force in 1860 although the holy statue of Amitayus Buddha, as well as 1008 smaller engraved Buddhas surrounding it, were destroyed.
Moreover, the Hall of the Sea of Wisdom is also where the worship of the Goddess of Mercy (Kuanyin) is occurring. Sitting straightly in the lotus throne with a jade pure bottle in one hand and willow leaves in the other, the statue is surrounded by other noteworthy relics such as the statues of Manjusri and Samantabhadra which are said to have been cast in the reign of the Emperor Qianlong. Visitors having some time visiting the hall will be impressed by the three characters written on the architraves of the hall for they form the Buddhist’s chant: a real journey to spiritualism.
The Back Lake
Passing the Marble Boat toward the north and behind the Longevity Hill, the Kunming Lake is the part of the park narrowing significantly and forming the Back Lake (后湖Hou Hu). Covered with many structures and surrounded by water, the lake is a calm and cool place where taking some rest after the turmoil of Beijing city.
The Back Lake, called that way for it is secluded and quiet, wandering its way varying in width and rendering a great deal of fun and amusement. Little area representing the most famous areas of China, the Back Lake is a jewel of history. In the western section, peculiar huge rocks perched on the banks are a vivid representation of the marvelous scenery of the Three Gorges of the Yangtze River. The section in the middle of the lake is characterized by the Suzhou Market Street with shops lining on both banks, a unique scene of the Water Town south of the Yangtze River. This tranquil lake ends at the Garden of Harmonious Interests which serves as a grandiose epilogue.
The Suzhou Market Street
The Suzhou Market Street (Suzhou jie) is located behind the Longevity Hill, in the middle section of the Back Lake. The Market is a great interest, as the lake serves as the street with the stalls and shops on its banks. It has all the features of other market streets in Suzhou, a famous Water Town of China. The ancient-style street, about 300 meters long (328 yards), transports the tourist back to the mid-18th century of China.
Originally built during the reign of Emperor Qianglong (1711-1799), the function of the market was to give to the Emperor and his Empress and concubines the experience of shopping in the Water Town. At that time, the eunuchs would act as clerks and shopkeepers, lending an air of realism to the experience. Over 60 old-styled stores, including restaurants, teahouses, pawn shops, banks, drugstores, clothing shops, dyers and publishing houses line the banks. The storekeepers, shop assistants, boaters and policemen on patrol are all dressed in traditional costumes of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).
The Garden of Harmonious Interests
Located beside the Kunming Lake, at the bottom eastern side of the Longevity Hill, the Garden of Harmonious Interests is of an exquisite design and distinctive layout a reason for its name as the “garden amongst the gardens of China”. Indeed, its style is the most representative of the classical gardens of Southern China.
The idea of creating such a place came after Emperor Qianlong (1711-1799) conducted an inspection in South China in 1751. Coming back to Beijing, the Emperor developed a great affection for the Jichuang yuan Gardens in the city of Wuxi (Jiangsu Province). He then ordered that a similar garden be built in the Summer Palace, naming it the Huishan Garden, the precursor to the actual Garden of Harmonious Interests (1811). The garden was rebuilt in 1893 after some destruction.
Upon entering the Garden of Harmonious Interests, visitors are greeted by a magic panorama. Surrounded by slopes and with a lotus pond at its centre, the garden is comprised of 7 pavilions, 5 halls, numerous corridors and small bridges, all arranged with elegance. Noteworthy highlight to pay attention to is the reflection of all these typically Chinese sceneries into the pristine water of the pond. In ancient times, the pond was the fishing site of Empress Dowager Cixi. Funny history about the Empresse’s taste for fishing as that every time Her Majesty went to fish, her eunuchs secretly dived into the water to hung live fish on her hook, in order to keep her in a relatively good spirit.
But what is exceptional about the Garden of Harmonious Interests is the 8 interests that can be enjoyed all around, developed as below:
– Interest of Seasons
– Interest of Pavilion
– Interest of Water
– Interest of Painting
– Interest of Bridge
– Interest of Corridor
– Interest of Calligraphy
– Interest of Imitation
Like many other natural sites, the beauty of the garden is changing along with seasons. Whether in summer, spring, autumn or winter time, the garden is still gorgeous for the pleasure of visitors worldwide. Water is maybe the element that is the most present in Chinese traditional gardens. The Garden of Harmonious interests is following the rule as many falls, and ponds give birth to winding streams where life is developing and wonderful sounds give a feeling of relaxation. Spanning the water with different styles, the bridges that can be admired in this part of the Summer Palace are parts of the historical and cultural relics tracing back from the ancient dynasties. The Xushi Path stele and stone inscription in the Moyun Room are also elements of interest for they ad to the park a painting dimension never seen anywhere else. Pavilions and corridors of different colors and architectural styles give to the scenery the typical Chinese sights that many of us are looking for when travelling to China.
Every single angle of the park is to discover. Harmonious and relaxing, the Garden of Harmonious interests is the perfect name for the most perfect garden China has ever been listing. A reason for understanding now why the Summer Palace has been listed to UNESCO!
3. Kunming Lake Area
The Kunming Lake area is the most famous part of the Summer Palace. Covering the larger part of the Palace, this is where Emperors and Empresses used to relax and enjoy the cool climate of the park away from the hit putting Beijing on fire at summer time. Unique vistas among all that can be see in the park, the Kunming lake is paying tribute to natural beauty and inspiring relaxation and quietness to those having the chance to spend some times on its banks discovering its many highlights.
The Bronze Ox
The Bronze Ox is one of the most famous attractions of the Lake set on bluestone wave-lined pedestal, overlooking the east shore of the Kunming Lake. The reason for an ox presence in the park can appeal to reflection but for history, the ox is said in Chinese believes to have to power to control floods: a major cause of death in ancient China. Around the bronze ox developed the legend that the master of floods prevention: Da Yu, after completion of any of his projects would put an iron ox into the water for preventing the area or region from flood disasters. Customary since the Tang Dynasty (618-907), oxen are since then lined at the edge of waterways.
Originally, the bronze ox was set there by Emperor Qianlong (1711-1799). Adopting a realistic approach, the ox has become an integral part of the surrounding environment. It is the largest of its kind in China, reflecting the high casting level of ancient China.
Connecting the eastern shore of the Kunming Lake to the Nanhu Island in the west, the Seventeen-Arch Bridge is a major attraction of the Kunming Lake. With a length of 150 meters (164 yards) and a width of 8 meters (8.75 yards), it is the longest bridge in the Summer Palace, built during the reign of Emperor Qianlong (1711-1799). Highly inspired from other famous Chinese bridges such as the Lugou Bridge in Beijing and Baodai Bridge in Suzhou (Zhejiang Province), the Seventeen-Arch Bridge looks like a rainbow arching over the water. 544 distinctive white marble lions are carved on the column of the parapets with a bizarre beast on each end of the bridge.
An interesting legend connecting to the construction of this bridge can be noticed. Coming to the court to sell his “Longmen stone”, a poor old man didn’t receive any attention from the people who started to despise him because of his poor looking. Waiting for a buyer, the old man sat beside a tree but the rain forced him to shelter in some places. Kindly advised and sheltered by a man, the old man offered his Longmen Stone as a gift to his host to thank him, and returned home. Years after the beginning of the construction of the Seventeen-Arch Bridge, just one stone was missing but no one could find nor design the appropriate shape. Remembering about the old man, people started to look for him in the vicinity but just found the exact stone given years ago to the host. Fitting perfectly, the stone completed the construction of the bridge that could start to be used by the Emperor. Since then, the old man is believed to be the incarnation of Luban, ancestor of carpenters, who came to help people build the imperial bridge.
The Nanhu Island (南湖岛South Lake Island) is the largest one among the three islands of the Kunming Lake. This over one hectare (2.5 acres) island is located in the southeast of the lake, connected to the east bank by the Seventeen-Arch Bridge. Originally, the island and the whole Kunming Lake were artificial for thousands of workers designed it, excavating the lake thus making the island emerging from the earth and water. The whole island is edged by huge stones and enclosed with carved stone fences. Seen from the distance, the island together with the Seventeen-Arch Bridge look like a tortoise stretching its neck. Symbol of longevity in Chinese culture, the tortoise was a beloved animal for Emperors and especially Emperor Qianlong, who originally built this garden in the name of his mother’s 60th birthday.
On the island, two main buildings make the highlights of the site: the Hanxu Hall and the Dragon King Temple. The Hanxu Hall is the shelter where Empress Dowager Cixi inspected the navy drill. Every time she came to the Summer Palace, she made a stop-over for worshiping at the temple, using a boat to reach the holy island.
Maybe one of the most remarkable buildings that visitors notice when visiting the Summer Palace, the Marble Boat (Shifang) is a structure tracing back from Emperor Qianlong’s reign (1711-1799). Located at the west end of the Long Corridor gallery, the boat was built in 1755 but the fires set during the Anglo-French occupation destroyed its superstructure. Empress Dowager Cixi’s general reconstruction of the Kingdom’s ancient buildings saved the memory of the original boat although rebuilt in an imitation of western-style yachts. Some wood subassemblies hidden through a marble texture are present in the boat, although called “Marble Boat”.
Behind the creation of that boat lies an interesting story telling a lot about emperors’ way of thinking the world and the management of the country. Indeed, the boat was constructed after the Tang Dynasty (618-907) minister Wei Zheng told the Emperor these words: “The waters that bear the boat are the same that swallow it up”. Reading between the lines, the Emperor understood the comparison of the boat to the Emperor and the waters to the people. The saying turned into a real advice that the Emperor should care about his people for they can overthrow him. In order to make the reign of the Qing Dynasty the longest as possible, he ordered the creation of a firm boat made of stone that cannot be overturned by the waters.
Travel Tips for Visiting Summer Palace
1. Entrance Fee
Price of Through Ticket
Prices of the “Yuan Zhong Yuan” Area
Garden of Harmonious Delights (德和园)
Tower of Buddhist Incense (佛香阁)
Wenchang Courtyard (文昌院)
Danning Hall at Suzhou Street(苏州街澹宁堂)
Price of Monthly Ticket
1. Free for children below 1.2 meters; free for children at Children’s Day (June 1st).2. Half ticket prices for Chinese students and overseas students (not including students of adult education) with valid student’s identity card (not including the “Yuan Zhong Yuan” Area).3. Half prices for groups with letters of introduction by their units at International Women’s Day (March 8th) and China’s Youth Day (May 4th) (not including the “Yuan Zhong Yuan” Area).4. Free for Beijing elders above 65 years and half prices for ecdemic Chinese elders above 70 years old with valid elder card (not including the “Yuan Zhong Yuan” Area);
5. Beijing residents can buy monthly ticket by virtue of valid identification card; ecdemic Chinese residents can buy monthly ticket as well by virtue of Temporary Residence Permit in Beijing or Permanent Residence Credential.
6. Free for disabled people with valid certificate of disability (not including the “Yuan Zhong Yuan” Area).
7. Free for Chinese servicemen and police officers with valid certificate (not including the “Yuan Zhong Yuan” Area).
8. Half prices for Chinese beneficiaries of social security benefit with valid Credential.
9. Free for people with valid Retire Card (not including the “Yuan Zhong Yuan” Area).
10. Tour guides leading tour groups should show their valid official tourist certificates; tour guides without official tourist certificates should buy entrance tickets.
11. No Refund and No Exchange for tickets.
2. Common Visit Routes
From East Palace Gate (the main entrance)
(1) About 3 hours: East Palace Gate (东宫门) – Hall of Benevolence and Longevity (仁寿殿) – Garden of Harmonious Delights (德和园) – Wechang Courtyard (文昌院) – Jade Ripples Hall (玉澜堂), Yiyun Hall (宜芸馆) – Hall of Joyful Longevity (乐寿堂) – the Long Corridor (长廊) – Hall of Dispelling Clouds (排云殿) – Tower of Buddhist Incense (佛香阁) – the Marble Boat (石舫) – Scenic Spot of Farming and Weaving (耕织图景区) – Ruyi Gate (如意门)
(2) About 2.5 hours: East Palace Gate (东宫门) – Hall of Benevolence and Longevity (仁寿殿) – Garden of Harmonious Delights (德和园) – Wechang Courtyard (文昌院) – Jade Ripples Hall (玉澜堂), Yiyun Hall (宜芸馆) –Hall of Joyful Longevity (乐寿堂) – the Long Corridor (长廊) – Hall of Dispelling Clouds (排云殿) –Tower of Buddhist Incense (佛香阁) – the Marble Boat (石舫) – cruise to South Lake Island (南湖岛) – Seventeen-Arch Bridge (十七孔桥) – Statue of Bronze Ox (铜牛) – Newly-built Palace Gate (新建宫门)
(3) About 2 hours: East Palace Gate – Hall of Benevolence and Longevity (仁寿殿) – Garden of Harmonious Delights (德和园) – Wechang Courtyard (文昌院) – Jade Ripples Hall (玉澜堂), Yiyun Hall (宜芸馆) – Hall of Joyful Longevity (乐寿堂) – the Long Corridor (长廊) – Hall of Dispelling Clouds (排云殿) – Tower of Buddhist Incense (佛香阁) – Suzhou Street (苏州街) – North Palace Gate (北宫门)
(4) About 2.5 hours: East Palace Gate – Hall of Benevolence and Longevity (仁寿殿) – Garden of Harmonious Delights (德和园) – Wechang Courtyard (文昌院) – Jade Ripples Hall (玉澜堂), Yiyun Hall (宜芸馆) – Hall of Joyful Longevity (乐寿堂) – the Long Corridor (长廊) – Hall of Dispelling Clouds (排云殿) – Tower of Buddhist Incense (佛香阁) – Suzhou Street (苏州街) – Danning Hall (澹宁堂) – Garden of Harmonious Interests (谐趣园) – East Palace Gate (东宫门)
From North Palace Gate
(1) About 3 hours: North Palace Gate (北宫门) – Suzhou Street (苏州街) – Si Da Bu Zhou (四大部洲) – Tower of Buddhist Incense (佛香阁) – Hall of Dispelling Clouds (排云殿) – the Long Corridor (长廊) – the Marble Boat (石舫) – cruise to South Lake Island (南湖岛) –Seventeen-Arch Bridge (十七孔桥) – Statue of Bronze Ox (铜牛) – east dyke of Kunming Lake (昆明湖东堤) – Wechang Courtyard (文昌院) – Jade Ripples Hall (玉澜堂), Yiyun Hall (宜芸馆) – Hall of Joyful Longevity (乐寿堂) – Garden of Harmonious Delights (德和园) – Hall of Benevolence and Longevity (仁寿殿) – East Palace Gate (东宫门)
(2) About 3 hours: North Palace Gate (北宫门) – Suzhou Street (苏州街) – Danning Hall (澹宁堂) – Garden of Harmonious Interests (谐趣园) – Hall of Benevolence and Longevity (仁寿殿) – Garden of Harmonious Delights (德和园) – Jade Ripples Hall (玉澜堂), Yiyun Hall (宜芸馆) – Wenchang Courtyard (文昌院) – Hall of Joyful Longevity (乐寿堂) – the Long Corridor (长廊) – Hall of Dispelling Clouds (排云殿) – Tower of Buddhist Incense (佛香阁) – the Marble Boat (石舫) – Scenic Spot of Farming and Weaving (耕织图景区) – Ruyi Gate (如意门)
(3) About 2 hours: North Palace Gate (北宫门) – Suzhou Street (苏州街) – the Marble Boat (石舫) – the Long Corridor (长廊) – Hall of Dispelling Clouds (排云殿) – Tower of Buddhist Incense (佛香阁) – Hall of Joyful Longevity (乐寿堂) – Garden of Harmonious Delights (德和园) – Wenchang Courtyard (文昌院) – Hall of Benevolence and Longevity (仁寿殿) – East Palace Gate (东宫门)
From Newly-built Palace Gate
(1) About 2.5 hours: Newly-built Palace Gate (新建宫门, the gate was built decades of years after other gates, hence the name) – east dyke of Kunming Lake (昆明湖东堤) – Wenchang Courtyard (文昌院) – Hall of Benevolence and Longevity (仁寿殿) – Garden of Harmonious Delights (德和园) – Jade Ripples Hall (玉澜堂), Yiyun Hall (宜芸馆) – Hall of Joyful Longevity (乐寿堂) – the Long Corridor (长廊) – Hall of Dispelling Clouds (排云殿) – Tower of Buddhist Incense (佛香阁) – Suzhou Street (苏州街) – North Palace Gate (北宫门)
(2) About 4 hours: Newly-built Palace Gate (新建宫门) – South Lake Island (南湖岛) – Seventeen-Arch Bridge (十七孔桥) – Statue of Bronze Ox (铜牛) – cruise to the Marble Boat (石舫) – Scenic Spot of Farming and Weaving (耕织图景区) – Suzhou Street (苏州街) – Tower of Buddhist Incense (佛香阁) – Hall of Dispelling Clouds (排云殿) – the Long Corridor (长廊) – Hall of Joyful Longevity (乐寿堂) – Garden of Harmonious Delights (德和园) – Jade Ripples Hall (玉澜堂), Yiyun Hall (宜芸馆) – Wenchang Courtyard (文昌院) – Hall of Benevolence and Longevity (仁寿殿) – East Palace Gate (东宫门)