Historical Places

The Summer Palace

The Summer Palace (Yiheyuan) is a beautiful imperial Chinese garden, located 9 miles from central Beijing on the western fringe of Haidian district. As a superb example of a classical Chinese garden, the Summer Palace has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The gardens were first created in the Jin Dynasty (1115 – 1234) to provide a place of relaxation and recreation for the emperor and his family. Successive emperors extended and improved the gardens until the gardens covered their present area of 726 acres.

During the Anglo-French attacks in the nineteenth century, the gardens of the Summer Palace were destroyed by fire. The infamous Dowager Empress Cixi rebuilt the gardens by embezzling funds from the Chinese navy. The gardens suffered a checkered history, again being damaged in the Eight-Power Allied Force in 1900.

They have now been fully restored to their former glory and visitors can enjoy a magnificent assortment of 3,000 structures including bridges, pavilions and towers, set in stunning classic Chinese landscaping. Three quarters of the gardens’ area is made up of lakes and water features, and there are breath-taking views from many of the structures.

(A qilin of the Qing dynasty on guard at the Summer Palace) A qilin of the Qing dynasty on guard at the Summer Palace.

Dominated by Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake, the Summer Palace is made up of four distinct sections: the court area, the front hill, the front lake, and the rear hill / back lake area.

The main palace buildings are located in the court area. The emperor and eminent members of his family could conduct business and entertain guests here. The Hall of Benevolence and Longevity served as the offices of the emperor, and the Hall of Jade Ripples as his residence. The Dowager Empress Cixi used the Hall of Joyful Longevity as her residence.

The front hill area is a magnificent section of the garden with impressive buildings including the Tower of Buddhist Incense.

The front lake area is the largest section of the garden and has many beautiful views of Kunming Lake. Popular viewpoints include the Seventeen Arch Bridge, Nanhu Island, the Eastern Bank and the Western Bank, home to the six bridges, including the famous Jade Belt Bridge.

The rear hill and back lake area is a tranquil section of trees, paths and lush landscaping. The Garden of Harmonious Interest has a classical design, whereas the Suzhou Market Street recreates the atmosphere of the water town of Suzhou.

The magnificent gardens of the Summer Palace are a delightful place to regenerate after the hustle and bustle of the city.