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 the emperor Qianlong
extensively remodeled it, 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 is 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.
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. Finally yet importantly, Western bank,
a replica of the Su Causeway of West Lake in Hangzhou possesses no
manufactured buildings except Jade Belt Bridge, which was made out
of marble and white stone.
December 1998, UNESCO included the Summer Palace on its World
Heritage List. It declared the Summer Palace "a masterpiece of
Chinese landscape garden design. The natural landscape of hills and
open water is combined with artificial features such as pavilions,
halls, palaces, temples and bridges to form a harmonious ensemble of
outstanding aesthetic value." It is a popular tourist destination
but also serves as a recreational park.
Check our Beijing Bus Tour Programs. You can tour
Summer Palace and other Beijing attractions with our
group bus tour programs for various routes.
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