The Imperial Summer Palace in Beijing is considered the pinnacle of Chinese architecture and landscape design. Built in the 18th century, it has been destroyed and rebuilt many times. Today, its gardens, pavilions and the adjacent Kunming Lake stand for relaxation, harmony and beauty.
The designation "Imperial Summer Palace" rather conveys an understated image of the gigantic complex in the Chinese capital Beijing. The massive artwork of buildings and gardens is one of our top 10 sights of China.
The Imperial Summer Palace is located on a site of just under 3 square kilometres in the northwest of Beijing between the shores of Kunming Lake, which represents the feminine Yin, and the Hill of Longevity, which stands for the masculine Yang.
Culturally, the Summer Palace is so valuable because it optimally represents the philosophy and implementation of the unique Chinese art of garden design. The Chinese way of life can be understood 1:1 among the masterpieces of Chinese architecture and landscape design. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998.
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PICTURES: Imperial Summer Palace in Beijing (Peking)
Construction of the Imperial Summer Palace in Beijing
Emperor Qianlong had the imperial summer palace built around 1750 for his mother on her 60th birthday. In the years up to 1764, ornate gardens, spacious residences, picturesque streams, fairytale arcades, impressive bridges and magnificent pagodas were built.
The garden was divided into three sections: one for politics and administration, one for private rooms and one for recreation and relaxation. The waterways of the garden led all the way to the centre of Beijing to the imperial palace, almost 20km away, as the imperial family always travelled by boat.
Alternation of destruction and reconstruction
Less than 100 years later, it was almost completely destroyed in the Opium War, along with the old summer palace just a few hundred metres to the west. Between 1886 and 1865, Emperor Guangxu had it rebuilt for the "Empress Dowager" Cixi, a concubine of Emperor Xianfeng. It was at this time that it was given the name "Summer Palace" for the first time, as it had become the preferred place of residence for the imperial family during the hot summer months.
For the Chinese, however, it was still called the "Garden of Peace and Harmony in Old Age". The old summer palace next to it was not restored, and only a few ruins of it can be seen today that hint at its original splendour. Further destruction, including reconstruction, took place in the course of the suppression of the Boxer Rebellion in 1900.
The gardens were only opened to the public in 1924 after the last emperor of China had been expelled, and in the meantime the initially exorbitant entrance fees have become affordable.
Visit to the Imperial Summer Palace in Beijing
Although the Imperial Palace and its gardens are one of Beijing's main attractions, there is hardly any tourism there. The entrance fee is negligible at a few euros, and there are no hawkers to harass visitors.
To enjoy the fantastic garden in all its idyllic splendour, you should take a whole day. The eye is guaranteed not to get bored with the multitude of architectural and scenic wonders.
Sights at the Imperial Summer Palace in Beijing
- Monumental buildings and other sights are to be found in incredible variety in the imperial summer palace.
- The East Gate, through which the foreign diplomats entered the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity, left a powerful impression as soon as they arrived
- The Pagoda of Buddhist Fragrance, at 41 metres one of the tallest traditional wooden buildings in China
- The 728-metre-long ambulatory, with several pavilions and 273 pairs of columns, in between more than 8,000 paintings with mythological scenes, landscape and bird portraits, a unique symbiosis of architecture and art gallery.
- The colossal Seventeen Arch Bridge connecting Nanhu Island with the lakeshore, the artfully curved Jade Belt Bridge or the inconspicuous hidden bridge on Kunming Lake.
- The Hall of Jade Waves, where Emperor Guangxu had his working and sleeping quarters, later he was imprisoned here on a pretext by his aunt Empress Cixi
- The Hall of Joy and Longevity housed the living quarters of Empress Cixi, the Yiyun Hall those of the concubines of Guangxu
- The marble boat Qingyanfang, a truly exquisite viewing platform on Kunming Lake and Cixi's witty immobile counterpart to the Chinese Navy, for which some of the funds that went into rebuilding the park were actually earmarked
- The bronze pavilion of the Precious Clouds looks like it is made of wood, but weighs 200 tons
- The Garden of Virtue and Harmony contains a theatre and the Hall of Exhilaration
In the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity, Emperor Guangxu received foreign diplomats and conducted state business with them - all the while under the constant watch of Empress Cixi, who hid behind a screen and actually pulled the strings of government in China at the time.