It was on Friday, 16 October 2009 - the day after our arrival in Beijing, that we visited the Summer Palace. Sitting in the Haidian District, northwest of central Beijing, the Summer Palace is not only the best preserved imperial garden of the Qing Dynasty that is still in existence, but also the largest and most famous classical royal garden of China. It has a total area of over 3.9 million square meters. Inside the garden, there is a collection of the cream of Chinese classical architecture, the styles of the gardens in different regions are featured, and it can be rated as a museum of garden architecture, a gem of Chinese garden art.

In 1987, the UNESCO listed it into the World Heritage List. UNESCO 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. In 1750 to celebrate his mother's 60th birthday, Emperor Quianlong took charge of the construction of the Summer Palace and originally named it the Garden of Clear Ripples. The project took 15 years and the layout carried forward the artistic characteristics of Chinese traditional gardening.

According to the function of each part, the Summer Palace can be divided into the following three parts:

1) The Royal Court Area which is centered on the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity is the place for calling in ministers and handling state affairs.

2) Living Area - taking the Hall of Happiness and Longevity as the main body, including the Hall of Jade Ripples, the Yinyun Hall, and the Grand Theater in the Garden of Virtuous Harmony, was the bedchambers for Cixi, Emperor Guangxu and his concubines and the place for watching plays and entertainment.

3) Sightseeing Area - which takes the Pavilion of the Buddhist Incense in the Longevity Hill as the center, is the essence of the Summer Palace. The Summer Palace is mainly dominated by Longevity Hill and the Kunming Lake. It covers an expanse of 2.9 square kilometers, three quarters of which is water. The central Kunming Lake covering 2.2 square kilometers was entirely man-made and the excavated soil was used to build Longevity Hill. In the Summer Palace, one finds a variety of palaces, gardens, and other classical-style architectural structures. Artisans reproduced the garden architecture styles of various palaces in China. Kunming Lake was created by extending an existing body of water to imitate the West Lake in Hangzhou. The Summer Palace 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 Summer Palace.

Among the landmarks found within the Summer Palace are:

1) THE LONG CORRIDOR - is a covered walkway in the Summer Palace. First erected in the middle of the 18th century, it is famous for its length (728 m) in conjunction with its rich painted decoration. The crossbeams under the roof dividing it into 273 sections. Along its course, there are four octagonal pavilions with double eaves, two on each side of the Cloud-Dispelling Gate.

The Long Corridor was first built in 1750, when the Qianlong Emperor commissioned work to convert the area into an imperial garden. The corridor was constructed so that the emperor's mother could enjoy a walk through the gardens protected from the elements. Like most of the Summer Palace, the Long Corridor was severely damaged by fire which Anglo-French allied forces laid in 1860 during the Second Opium War. It was rebuilt in 1886. The Long Corridor is richly decorated with paintings on the beams and the ceiling. In total there are more than 14,000 paintings, which depict episodes from Chinese classical literature, folk tales, both historical and legendary figures, and famous Chinese buildings and landscapes along with flowers, birds, fish, and insects. In each of the four pavilions, there are two major paintings over the two doorways on the eastern and western sides.

2) THE MARBLE BOAT - also known as the Boat of Purity and Ease, is a lakeside pavilion on the grounds of the Summer Palace. It was first erected in 1755 during the reign of the Qianlong Emperor. In 1860, during the Second Opium War, the pavilion was destroyed by Anglo-French forces. It was restored in 1893 on order of the Empress Dowager Cixi. In this restoration, a new two-story superstructure was designed which incorporated elements of European architecture. Like its predecessor, the new superstructure is made out of wood but it was painted to imitate marble. On each "deck", there is a large mirror to reflect the waters of the lake and give an impression of total immersion in the aquatic environment. Imitation paddlewheels on each side of the pavilion makes it look like a paddle steamer. The pavilion is 36 meters long. It stands on the northwestern shore of Kunming Lake, near the western end of the Long Corridor.

3) THE 17-ARCH BRIDGE - Connecting the eastern shore of Kunming Lake in the east and Nanhu Island in the west, the Seventeen-Arch Bridge was built during the reign of Emperor Qianlong (1711-1799); 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. As the name suggests, it has seventeen symmetrical arches, with the largest one in the center and the others diminishing in size on either side. The arch and its reflection in water are an awesome sight. The bridge is decorated with 544 delicately carved lions. This vivid lions, sitting on the white marble balusters, have different expressions and postures.

4) KUNMING LAKE - Covering three fourth of the area in Summer Palace, it is the most attractive water area in the Beijing suburb. Originally, it is a natural lake formed by a number of springs in the northwestern district in Beijing. In Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), people grew lotus flowers in the lake and planted rice around the lake. Its picturesque beauty was often compared with the charming scenery around the West Lake. Even the emperors were fascinated with it and made boat trips on the lake. In Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), in order to build Qingyi Garden, the Emperor Qianlong ordered to expand the lake. He named it Kunming Lake in a way to praise its incomparable beauty. In 1888, the Empress Cixi made it Summer Palace to spend summers. Now, visitors can take a boat ride on the lake and enjoy the beautiful picture from far and near. Kunming Lake has become a necessary site for Beijing people to relax and spend holidays.

5) LONGEVITY HILL - 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 form a south-north (lakeside - peak) oriented axis which is flanked by various other buildings. In the center of the Temple of Buddhist Virtue stands the Tower of Buddhist Incense, 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. The Longevity Hill was originally called the Wengshan Hill. It was renamed by Emperor Qianlong in 1752, during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), when he constructed the garden. The hill is about 60 meters (196.9 feet) high and houses many buildings positioned in sequence. The front hill is rich in splendid halls and pavilions; while the back hill, in sharp contrast, is quiet with natural beauty. The accompanying photographs should give you an idea as to how the Summer Palace looks like. To view the photographs, just click on the link shown below:

The Summer Palace

Right after our tour, we had our late lunch at the Tai Yi Chun Restaurant which was just outside the main entrance to the Summer Palace.