The Summer Palace , located in northwest Beijing, is said to be the best preserved imperial garden in the world, and the largest of its kind still in existence in China. It is only a short ride (15 km) from central Beijing, but seems like another peaceful world.
Most people find they need to spend at least half a day there, as there’s so much to see and enjoy.
In chinese, the Summer Palace is called "Yi He Yuan"(Nourishing Peace Garden). It ocuppies an area of 2.9 square kilometers with a history of 268 years. Visitors to the Summer Palace can enjoy boating on Kunming Lake, walking the Long Corridor, watching a traditional Chinese performance in the ancient theater etc.
The Summer Palace's landscaped gardens, temples, and pavilions were designed upon the profound Chinese philosophy "the harmony between nature and human beings", to soothe, and to please the eye. So the Chinese name ‘Nourishing Peace Garden’ is apt.
During the hot Beijing summers, the imperial family preferred the beautiful gardens and airy pavilions in the Summer Palace to the walled-in Forbidden City, so it functioned as the summer resort of the royal family of Qing dynasty. Dowager Empress Cixi took up permanent residence there for a time, giving rise to some wonderful tales of extravagance and excess.
The Summer Palace was listed as World Heritage in 1998 and the UNESCO highly praised that the Summer Palace is "a masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden design". It harmonizes plants and paths, water and land, architecture and horticulture, epitomizing the philosophy and practice of Chinese garden design, which played a key role in the development of this cultural form throughout the East. It is a potent symbol of one of the world’s major civilizations.
The Summer Palace complex falls naturally into several sections, each with its own distinct character, some meant for administration, some living, and others relaxation, among which the highlights include Kunming Lake, the Long Corridor, Longevity Hill, the Marble Boat, and the Garden of Virtue and Harmony.
The Court Area
In the Court area, near the East Palace Gate, are the palace buildings where Dowager Empress Cixi and Emperor Guangxu used to stay and conduct government business. It includes a number of halls, courtyards, and displays.
The Garden of Virtue and Harmony (Dehe Yuan) is an entertainment complex, built as a theater for the Empress Dowager. The three-story theater stage is the biggest and best-preserved wooden stage in China. Its delicate design and magnificent structure is of great cultural and artistic value. Famous Beijing Opera actors of the Qing Dynasty would come to perform for the Empress Dowager and the stage was regarded as the "Cradle of Beijing Opera". A large number of precious articles used by emperors and empresses, as well as some of the gifts presented to the Qing court by foreign states, are on display there.
Kunming Lake, in the center of the park, takes up about 75% of the park. It is the key landscape feature of the Summer Palace, together with Longevity Hill. The famous 17-hole bridge spans between Nanhu (‘South Lake’) Island and the east bank. The bridge is 150 meters (490 ft) long, and like a long rainbow frame above the blue water.
The Long Corridor
The paths beside the lake lead you under shady trees, or along the roofed colonnade known as the Long Corridor, with its magnificently painted ceilings. Bridges, boats, willows, lotus flowers, and other attractive landscaping make this a pleasant place to soak up the atmosphere and in the views.
Longevity Hill rises beside the lake, dotted with superb halls and temples, and wonderfully decorated gates. The energetic can climb the hill to the Buddhist Temple overlooking the entire area.
Marble Boat, at the northern edge of the lake, is a decorative building that imitates a real boat. Erected in 1755, it is the only Western-style structure in the park, inlaid with colorful glass windows and wheels, and paved with colored bricks.
Suzhou Market Street
Suzhou Market Street recreates a selection of traditional riverside shops, many of which can only be reached by boat. The story goes that former Emperors, or their concubines, used to enjoy 'pretend-shopping', as normally everything was bought for them.