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Summer Palace, Beijing

The Summer Palace or Yihe yuan is a palace in Beijing, China. The Summer Palace is mainly dominated by Longevity Hill (60 meters high) 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 its compact 70,000 square meters of building space, one finds a variety of palaces, gardens, and other classical-style architectural structures.

The Summer Palace started out life as the Garden of Clear Ripples in 1750 (Reign Year 15 of Emperor Qianlong). 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 palace complex suffered two major attacks--during the Anglo-French allied invasion of 1860 (with the Old Summer Palace also ransacked at the same time), and during the Boxer Rebellion, in an attack by the eight allied powers in 1900. The garden survived and was rebuilt in 1886 and 1902. In 1888, it was given the current name, Yihe Yuan. 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 (Beiyang Fleet), into the reconstruction and enlargement of the Summer Palace.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." It is a popular tourist destination but also serves as a recreational park.

The palace has three unique areas: Court Area, Longevity Hill Area and Kunming Lake Area.

The garden was originally named the Garden of Clear Ripples (Qingyi). It was a summer resort for the emperors in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). In 1860, the garden was burnt down by the Anglo-French Allied Forces. In 1866, Empress Dowager Cixi rebuilt the garden using embezzled funds from the imperial navy and named it the Summer Palace (Yiheyuan). In 1900, during the Boxer Rebellion, the Eight-Power Allied Force ransacked the palace. After another reconstruction in 1903, the garden was restored to its original beauty and magnificence. As the grandest garden in China, it was added to the World Culture Heritage list in 1998.

Court Area

The East Palace Gate (Donggongmen) opens into the Court Area. Inside is a group of typical courtyard houses connected by porches. The center building is the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity (Renshoudian) where Emperor Guangxu, the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty, held court and conducted official business during his stay at the garden. Now, an exquisitely carved screen, a bronze dragon and bronze phoenix are on display. To the northwest are three halls: the Hall of Jade Ripples (Yulantang) where Guangxu lived; the Hall of Virtue and Harmony (Deheyuan), the biggest theater in the Qing Dynasty; and the Hall of Joyful Longevity (Leshoutang), a splendid residence of Empress Dowager Cixi. To the northeast is the Garden of Harmony and Enchantment. This was where the emperors spent their leisure time fishing.

Longevity Hill Area

The Longevity Hill Area faces the Kunming Lake in the south and is backed by the Rear Lake (Houhu) in the north. In the front hill, grand halls are built along a north-south axis. The halls are the Hall of Dispelling Clouds (Paiyundian), Tower of Buddhist Incense (Foxiangge) and the Hall of the Sea of Wisdom (Zhihuihai). The Hall of Dispelling Clouds, with red pillars and yellow tiles, is the most splendid building of the whole palace. The grand Tower of Buddhist Incense, towering 41 meters (134.5 feet), is the symbol of the Summer Palace. The Hall of the Sea of Wisdom on the top of the Longevity Hill is a Buddhist hall. The outside of the hall is decorated with glazed tiles. There is a Suzhou Market Street (Suzhoujie) at the Rear Lake. With waterway passing through and shops perching on banks, the street looks like the very scene of Water Country' in the south region of the Yangtze River.

Kunming Lake Area

Along the south bank of the attractive lake, a 728-meter-long corridor (Changlang) is the longest and most famous corridor in China. It serves as a link between the Longevity Hill and the Kunming Lake. Around 14,000 impressive paintings of historical figures, landscapes, birds and flowers adorn this corridor, making it into a fantastic gallery. There is a Marble Boat at the west bank. This boat was built in 1755, in the hope that the governance of the Qing Dynasty would be impregnable under any circumstance. The south part of this natural lake is modeled after the West Lake in Hangzhou. A western bank divides the lake into two parts. Six graceful bridges act as connecters of the entire western bank, among which the Jade Belt Bridge is a favorite of the Emperor Qianlong and Empress Dowager Cixi. The spectacular Seventeen-Arch Bridge (Shiqikong Qiao) connects the eastern bank and Nanhu Island. The bridge is 150 meters (492 feet) long and eight meters (twenty-six feet) wide. 564 stone lions with different expressions and gestures on the balusters are strikingly life-like.

Edited By Athena Lee Photograph taken by Harry Zhu

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