Walking through the Summer Palace where once only Royalty could enter was very high on my Beijing wish list. Our China Odyssey group took taxis to the Summer Palace and unfortunately the taxi drivers dropped us off at different entrances so we were split up for the day. This ended up not being a huge problem as we had all arranged to meet again later that day to attend the Beijing Opera.
The Summer Palace of Beijing, is a fabulously huge place dominated by the Kunming Lake which lies right in-front of this huge Palace complex. The Palace buildings are mostly situated on Longevity Hill from where you get the most amazing views over the lotus flower filled Lake.
The huge Kunming Lake covers an area of 2.2 square kilometers and was the sight that greeted us as we entered the Palace grounds. This vast expanse of water with its lotus filled edges is a breathtaking view. The lake is filled with small leisure boats taking tourist out to get a closer view of the lotus flowers or the small islands dotted all over the lake.
The East Causeway of the lake is connected to the West Causeway by the Long painted Gallery, interspersed with pavilions, bridges and wharfs. Walking through this colourful wooden pavilion was an amazing experience. Each pillar section had an unique painting and you could see that it must have taken them ages to decorate this walkway. Each art work depicts a beautiful scene from China’s rich history or the countless beautiful natural scenes that fill it.
Walking along the same path the Emperors of China walked is such an amazing experience.
It was a typical Chinese summer day, very hot and humid but we took our time exploring this amazing place. It was an awesomely huge and great place to explore with lots of old buildings and beautiful views over the lake and forest surrounding the place.
In the SummerPalace, one finds a variety of palaces, gardens, and other classical-style architectural structures.
The palace building are all situated along Longevity Hill which is about 60 metres high with loads of steep staircases and pathways leading to the top. The foot of this hill is filled with rich with splendid halls and pavilions, while the back hill, in sharp contrast, is quiet with natural beauty. This was 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.
This is the most magnificent area with the most constructions. It is symmetrically laid out with many delicate buildings and graceful gardens with the south-facing Tower of Buddhist Incense as the central axis.
On its southern slope, Longevity Hill is adorned with an ensemble of grand buildings: The Cloud-Dispelling Hall, the Temple of Buddhist Virtue, and the Sea of Wisdom Temple.
In the center of the Temple of Buddhist Virtue stands the Tower of Buddhist Incense (Fo Xiang Ge), which forms the focal point for the buildings on the southern slope of Longevity Hill. The tower is built on a 20-meter-tall stone base, is 41 meters high with three stories and supported by eight ironwood pillars. There are also the Garden of Virtue and Harmony where Cixi was entertained and Yiyun Hall where once lived the Empress Longyu.
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.
The SummerPalace started out life as the ‘Garden of Clear Ripples’ in 1750. It served as a summer resort for Empress Dowager Cixi, who diverted 30 million taels of silver, said to be originally designated for the Chinese navy, into the reconstruction and enlargement of the SummerPalace. This diversion of funds away from military sources came just six years before the first First Sino-Japanese War which China lost.
The Rear Hill area to the North is quiet compared to the 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-HoudaTemple, 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. Situated in the heart of this area is the old town with all its canals and walkways. This canal filled street is known as Suzhou Steet. It was built as an exact copy of Shantang Steet for the Empress Dowager, Cixi (1835–1908), of the Qing Dynasty for her amusement.
In 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.”