Located in the northwest of Beijing, 15 Km away from the downtown area of Haidian District, “The Summer Palace” is the largest and the most well-preserved imperial park in China. It showcases Chinese horticulture and landscape with popular natural views and cultural interests. There were also some people who call it “The Museum of Royal Gardens”.
History of Summer Palace
The Summer Palace was initially built in 1750 to be the luxurious royal garden of the imperial families where they can rest and be entertained. In later years during the Qing Dynasty, it became the main residence of the members of the royal family. However, like any other gardens in Beijing, Summer Palace was not able to escape the rages of the Anglo-French Allied Force and was devastated by fire. Based on historical documents, the garden’s original name was “Qingyi Garden” (Garden of Clear Ripples). It was just renamed to Summer Palace or Yiheyuan after it was reconstructed in 1888. Ancient records also showed that Empress Dowager Cixi misappropriated navy funds to rebuild the garden as a resort where she could spend the rest of her life. In the year 1900, the garden suffered one more hit by the Eight-Power Allied Force and was again repaired in the next 2 years. Summer palace was opened to the public in the year 1924, was recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1998, and became one of the first national AAAA tourist destinations in China.
The Summer Palace emits the natural beauty and the grandeur of imperial gardens. It occupies a total area of 300.59 hectares and is composed mainly by Longevity Hill or” Wanshou Shan” and Kunming Lake. The garden also boasts more than 3,000 man-made ancient structures with a building space of over 70,000 square meters which include pavilions, bridges, towers, corridors, and others.
Summer palace is divided into 4 main parts:
- Court Area
- Front Area of Longevity Hill
- Rear Area of Longevity Hill
- Kunming Lake Area.
1. Court Area
Situated in the northeast of the Summer Palace is the Court Area which spreads from the East Palace Gate to the northeast coast of the Kunming Lake. This is a replica of the imperial palace of China and is called the “palace in from and garden behind”. This is where the Empress Dowager Cixi and Emperor Guangxu met different officials and help state affairs. Apart from court affairs, this section of the Summer Palace also has living quarters. The East Palace Gate, as well as the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity, were used as the office of the Emperor. The Hall of Joyful Longevity was for Cixi to live in and the Hall of Jade Ripples for Guangxu. The Yiyun Hall was where Empress Longyu used to live in while the Garden of Virtue and Harmony was used for holding entertainment for Cixi. Nowadays, this portion of the garden is an integrated transport hub which is the best first stop for tourists to enjoy stunning views of Kunming Lake and Longevity Hall.
East Palace Gate
This is the front entrance of the Summer Palace which faces the east and has a gable roof. It has two side doors intended for the imperial family members and court officials, and three grand doors at the center which were used exclusively by the Emperor, Empress, and queen mother. The East Palace Gate definitely represents the Chinese culture of feudal hierarchy.
The beams under the gate’s eaves are designed with colorful paintings. There was also a plaque that hangs on the gate with the inscription “Yiheyuan” which means ‘to maintain energy and mellow the soul’. Leading to the entrance is a chiseled Danbi Stairway Stone Carvings with 2 relief dragons playing with a ball. It was originally placed in the Yuanmingyuan Ruins or the Old Summer Palace and was moved here in 1937. In front of the gate lies a couple of bronze lions bent down on white marble platforms on two sides, with female in the north and male in the south.
About 200 meters away from the gate is a wooden archway called the Hanxu and Yanxiu Decorated Archway that the garden’s visitors will pass before reaching the East Palace Gate. ‘Yanxiu’ in the west literally means ‘capturing beauty’ while ‘Hanxu’ in the east indicates ‘picturesque scenery’.
Apart from the archway, visitors would also find a small yard after entering through the East Palace Gate. It has nine rooms on each side and was called ‘Neichao House’ or ‘House of Inner Court’. This was where the nine head officers of the Qing Dynasty’s six ministries stayed when on duty.
Hall of Jade Ripples
Located near the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity is the hall of Jade Ripples that was initially built in 1750 during the reign of Emperor Qianlong. It was intended then as a venue for state affairs dealing. In 1892, the hall was reconstructed as ordered by Emperor Guangxu and was used ever since as his living quarters. It was built with the inspiration of the traditional Chinese “sanheyuan” style in which the main hall is in the middle of two annex halls on each side. The courtyard got its name from a verse of the Jin Dynasty’s Lu Ji that says “jade spring with rippling water”. The main hall is facing the south and its back door leads to Yiyun House. The annex hall in the west is named Ouxiangxie and the one in the east is called Xiafenshi. The back door of the former leads to the Lake Front Wharf and the former’s back door to the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity.
A historical event also happened in the Hall of Jade Ripples. When the Reform Movement in 1898 failed, Emperor Guangxu who promoted the reform was put under house arrest in this hall as ordered by Empress Dowager Cixi. The Emperor and the Empress, together with their allies, disagreed to the aim of the Reform Movement (Hundred Days Reform) which was to change the outdated feudal system and create a new decree. The movement lasted for 103 days only and the Emperor was placed in the Hall of Jade Ripples. His six associate reformists, on the other hand, were beheaded. Brick walls were built in the courtyard’s two annex halls to block the exits and prevent Emperor Guangxu from escaping and accessing the outside world. Cixi even assigned eunuchs to watch the Emperor’s every move. Even though most of the brick walls were dismantled already, a trace of such Chinese history can still be seen in the place.
Hall of Benevolence and Longevity
Upon entering the East Palace Gate, visitors would first see the architectural complex of the Emperors’ administrative area, the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity.
Initially, this administrative hall was called ‘Qinzheng Hall” to motivate rulers to diligently manage the state affairs. But during the time of Emperor Guangxu, the halls was renamed to “Renshoudian” as inspired by the popular Confucian saying “the ruler who reigns benevolently will have a long life”.
Nowadays, the hall’s furnishings remain the same as they were in history. In the middle of the hall is a pedestal with a throne that was furnished with nine dragons. There are also other decorations in the platform such as the monster-shaped censer, peacock-feather fans, and a red sandalwood screen. The hall also has two side chambers which were used as the resting place of the Emperor, the Empress, and other officials.
Located in the courtyard is an intricately sculpted bronze beast named Kylin. It has a dragon head, deer horn, cattle hoof, and lion tail. It is known to guard against the devastation of fire in Chinese legends. Standing also in the courtyard is the Five Lake Tai stones called “Fengxuwulao” which signifies longevity. Situated in front of the hall are 2 pairs of bronze statues of phoenixes and dragons. Such were used as incense burners during formal occasions to perfume the air. Since it was the Empress who managed the affairs of the state, the phoenix statues which represent the queen lie in the middle and the dragons, representing the Emperor, lie at the side. A well named “Yannianjing” or Well of Extending Life is located to the north of the hall. The clear and sweet water from the water was said to have revived the Empress when she had a heat stroke. Hence, its name.
Behind the Hall of Jade Ripples is a traditionally built courtyard called the Yiyun House. It was originally constructed during the reign of Emperor Qianlong for his book collections. It was called ‘Yiyun’ because of the word ‘yun’ which is an aromatic plant that could protect books from moths. It was included in the burnt structures in 1860 but was ordered to be repaired by Emperor Guangxu to house his Empress Longyu.
Empress Longyu was the last queen of the Qing Dynasty. She was the wife of the Emperor and the niece of Empress Dowager Cixi. It was her Empress aunt who arranged her marriage with the Emperor. Unfortunately, Emperor Guangxu did not favor Empress Longyu, thus, she lived alone in the Yiyun House.
The courtyard is actually a complex that includes the Yiyun Gate, Yiyun House, Jinxi House, Daocun House, as well as corridors. The Yiyun Gate is intricately designed with a floral-pendant style while the Yiyun House is five-rooms wide and has a bat-shaped plaque hanging in the middle. Its roof has a flush gable in front while in its back is an overhanging gable. On the west is the Jinxi House and on the east is the Daocun House. Both houses are also five-rooms wide with flush gable roofs.
Garden of Virtue and Harmony
North of the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity is the Garden of Virtue and Harmony where the Emperor and the Empress watched the performances by the Peking opera. It houses one of the most popular opera theaters during the Qing Dynasty, the Grand Theater, which is the most well-preserved and biggest palace theater in China.
A celebration in the Qing royal palace was not complete without a Peking opera in the Grand Theater. It has three stories with a 21-meter height. From bottom to top are the Shou Stage or the Longevity Stage, Lu Stage or Affluence Stage, and Fu Stage or Happiness Stage. Each stage has a floor with trapdoors and below the Shou Stage are five ponds and a well. Such ponds and well were intended to amplify the sound effects through the use of acoustic resonance. They were also used for water to appear when the dragon spouts. Special effects in all the three stages were also installed to fully entertain the audience especially the Empress who favored operas the most.
The Dressing House is a two-story structure located behind the stages of the theater. This was used as the costume and makeup location of the opera’s actors and actresses.
Hall of Nurtured Joy
This is where Empress Dowager Cixi would watch the opera exclusively. Her throne here is very luxurious. It has a carving of a hundred larks flying towards a phoenix as well as a collection of caged songbirds which came from faraway lands. It also has a florid jade-inlaid screen where flower and bird motifs are on display. Cixi did not use the throne much when watching the opera, instead, she frequently stayed at the kang bed behind the west window of the structure when she watches the performances.
Hall of Celebrating Virtue
During opera intermissions, Cixi used this hall to rest. Today, you can see Cixi’s portrait in this hall which was painted by the American artist Carl in 1903.
Hall of Joyful Longevity
This hall is considered as the major construction in the living area for royalty since it has the Kunming Lake in front and the Longevity Hill at the back.
Emperor Qianlong ordered the construction of this hall as a gift for the 6oth birthday of his mother. But it was burnt down in 1860 and was only rebuilt in 1887 into a one-story building to be used as the residence of Empress Dowager Cixi. The structure is a typical Siheyuan compound with a courtyard located at its center. Small yards are located on each side of the main house and also has side houses in west and east wings. There is a secondary entrance between the main gate and the courtyard which is actually a decorated pathway. Behind the main hall is another structure called the Back Hall.
Inside the main hall are a carved sandalwood throne, a folding screen, and a pair of peacock fans. On each side of the throne is a porcelain plate used to hold fruits. There are also 4 huge copper incense burners inside the call and on its ceiling hung a colorful pendant lamp. It was the first ever lamp used in China imported in 1903 from Germany. The east room was used by the Empress as a dressing room while the west room as her bedroom.
2. Front Area of the Longevity Hill
Longevity Hall is loocated beside the Kunming Lake and has a 58.59 meters height. It is part of the Yanshan Mountains and has traditional buildings in front and fewer buildings in its rear. This area is considered the most stunning amongst the many constructions in the Summer Palace. It was laid out symmetrically from east to west where various delicate buildings are peaceful gardens are located. Its central axis is the Tower of Buddhist Incense which faces the south.
Also called the Long Corridor, the Long Gallery is a flawlessly designed structure which many regards as the most classic feature of the Summer Palace. Being the longest corridor in Chinese classic gardens, its length measures 728 meters.
It was initially constructed on the 5th year of Emperor Qianlong’s reign and was completed after 4 years. The Long Gallery was intended for the outdoor walks of the Emperor’s mother, regardless of the weather. It was burnt down in 1860 and was reconstructed in 1886. The Empress Dowager Cixi liked walking in the gallery every day after having her breakfast.
The gallery has ‘273’ rooms wherein each room is represented by the space between two pairs of columns that support the roof. In its center is where the Gate of Dispelling Clouds is situated. At the eastern and western ends of the Long Gallery are two pavilions with an octagon shape. The four pavilions signify the 4 seasons with the names (from west to east) Qingyao or Clear and Carefree Pavilion, Qiushui or Autumn Water Pavilion, Jilan or Reposing Ripple Pavilion, and Liuja or Retaining the Goodness Pavilion.
One more highlight that is worth the visit to the Long Gallery is the 14,000 Su style colored paintings in each beam and cross-member. It was even titled ‘the colored paintings museum’. In order to protect the paint from fading, they were made from the raw colors of minerals. The Long Gallery was included in the Guinness Book of Records in the early 1900s because of its length and numerous colored paintings.
Even though the Baoyun Pavilion is made of bronze, it was called by many the “golden pavilion”. Located at the west of the Tower of Buddhist Incense, it is one of the 3 best and biggest bronze buildings existing in the country.
The Baoyun Bronze Pavilion has a double-eave roof with a height that measures 7.55 meters and a weight of 207 tons. The pavilion’s pillars, brackets, rafters, beasts on the ridges, tiles, doors, windows, and even its lintel are all made out of wood. It has a greenish-grey color and stands on a white Buddhist-style marble base with engravings.
Emperor Qianlong wrote poetry on the stele sitting before the pavilion when the bronze structure was completed. During his reign, Lamas of Tibet visited the pavilion and prayed for the emperors and empresses of the Qing Dynasty on the 1st, as well as 15th day, of the month. The brackets on the stone cliff behind the pavilion which have a 10-meter height were used to hang Buddha figures when the ceremony is held.
In the inner wall of the rare bronze pavilion are engravings of four names: Angguozhu, Zhangcheng, Hanzhong, and Gaoyonggu. Many believed that they were the 4 people who cast this pavilion.
Hall of Utmost Blessing
This hall was originally a 2-story hexagonal Buddha pavilion located at the apex of the east ridge of the Longevity Hall. The war of 1860 destroyed all of it and a 1-story hall was built in 1860.
It was originally called the Tanhua Pavilion and was constructed to honor the Samantabhadra Bodhisattva or Bodhisattva of Universal Benevolence. Its shape signified the night-blooming cereus which has 6 petals. Buddha statues are located on the 2 levels of the pavilion.
When it was rebuilt, Empress Dowager Cixi wanted it to be used for the moon observation when it’s raining. To save on expense, it was designed as a 1-story structure. However, its main hall is very spacious and from here, you can see the other stunning sceneries in the Summer Palace. Cixi conducted a ceremony in the pavilion on every Qixi Festival on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month to commemorate a romantic legend.
Along the verandas of the hall are numerous palace lanterns which give its beauty from afar at night. The plaque under the eave in the entrance is said to be handwritten by the Empress herself. The hall covers a total area of 200 square meters and is very stunning because of its tiling ground with various paintings as decorations.
Hall of Dispelling Clouds
The complex of buildings in front of the Longevity Hill which stand symmetrically with a perfect and exact design is the Hall of Dispelling Clouds. The complex starts from the Yunhui Yuyu Archway in the south and has its axis lined up precisely with the Gate of Dispelling Clouds, Hall of Dispelling Clouds, Tower of Buddhist Incense, as well as the Hall of the Sea of Wisdom. The Hall of Dispelling Clouds is a building complex that forms the central part of the scenic area in front of the hill.
The structure was originally from the Da Baoen Yanshou Temple or Temple for Prating Great Gratitude and Wishing for Longevity which was ordered to be built during the time of Emperor Qianlong as a gift to his mother’s birthday. It was burnt down during the war of 1860 and was rebuilt during Emperor’s Guangxu’s ruling. The lower part of the temple was changed from Hall of Mahavira to its current name. The Hall of Dispelling Clouds was derived from a verse of Jin Dynasty’s poet Guo Pu that says ‘in such a splendid hall, supernatural beings will emerge. It means that the occupants of the building will be blessed with a prolonged life.
The Hall of Dispelling Clouds is on a raised terrace that has marble balusters. Its platform is broad and its steps are in three directions. One pair each of bronze dragons, phoenixes, and three-footed vessels, as well as four bronze vats, are located on each side of the terrace. Even though Emperor Qianlong once ordered that all the buildings in the imperial gardens and retreats should not be built with yellow glazed tiles (except temples), the Hall of Dispelling Clouds became an exception and has its roofs decorated with yellow glazed tiles.
Through the Wonderland
Covering the west part of the front area of the Longevity Hill is the building complex called Through the Wonderland. It features the Chenghui Pavilion, Jieqiu Tower, as well as the Aishan Tower prominently. It also gives a panoramic view of both the Kunming Lake and the Jade Spring Mountain. The buildings in the complex harmonize well with the terrain by sitting on platforms of different heights and connected by sloping galleries that have yellow and green glazed tiles. On the 2nd floor of this octahedral pavilion is a magnificent view of the lake with rocks as a backdrop.
The white marble archway of the complex is just one of the 41 archways in the Summer Palace. It has low relief carvings all over and flower patterns are designed on its stone drums.
There is another layer of the courtyard behind the said archway. The Hall of Through the Wonderland is the core building which is carried in arms of the slanted galleries.
Tower of Buddhist Incense
This tower is considered the symbolic structure of the Summer Palace. It is a religious building that was initially planned to be a 9-story tower but was completed as am 8-story Buddhist tower for worshipping Buddha. During the 1st day and 15th day of each lunar month, Empress Dowager Cixi went to the tower to pray and burn joss sticks. When it was reconstructed during the time of Emperor Guangxu, the state spent 780,000 taels of silver, the most expensive reconstruction project of the dynasty.
The tower has three levels and an octagon shape with 4 layers of eaves. It has a height of 41 meters over a 21 meter-high stone foundation. It is flanked by symmetrical buildings and climbing its steep steps would give the tourists a wider view of the stunning scenery around the Kunming Lake.
The complex was constructed on the mountainside sixty meters above water level. A portion of the mountain was bounded in the enormous stone foundation and the tower was exceptionally held up, adoring the attention from all over the front-hill area. The tower, which is the main structure of the building, faces the south and has the mountain as a backup in the north. It is located on a 1.75-meter-high Buddhist pedestal made out of white marble. Porch rooms are situated around the tower on the enormous square stone foundation. The north and south gates are designed with yellow glazed tiles and green brims between the red walls and the yellow tiles.
Eight big ironwood pillars are supporting the tower. In each pillar is a hanging plaque while a glided statue of the thousand-handed Kwan-yin Buddha sits right inside on the first floor. Based on historical records, this statue has a height of five meters and a weight of five tons. It was also cast in bronze and glided with gold during the time Ming Dynasty’s Emperor Wanli. The tower was opened to the public in 1989 and was reconstructed in 2006.
Hall of the Sea of Wisdom
On the sloping north of the Tower of Buddhist Incense, the Hall of the Sea of Wisdom lies. It is a building complex which is a magnificent domain on the hill crest. It starts with a splendid archway designed with yellow titles based on a marble platform. This gateway is known as the Realm of Multitudinous Fragrance or Zhong Xiang Jie which is a name for a Buddhist kingdom. After the gate is the Hall of the Sea of Wisdom, the topmost building in the Longevity Hall.
This hall is a 2-decked religious structure that imitated a wooden architecture’s appearance but is actually made of brick and stone. It has no single beam that supports its weight, thus, it was also known as the “No Beam Hall”.
The structure is very eye-catching because of the shining glazed bricks not only on its roof but also on its walls. Several real and virtual arch gates are located on the façade and at the back of the hall. There are also intricately glazed Buddha statues sitting in rows on the wall around the arch gates. The 1,008 statues are indeed the highlight of this uniquely made building.
Since it is made of bricks, the building was not taken down by the fire in the 1860 war. But the holy statue of the Amitabha Buddha and the little-glazed statues on the wall weren’t as lucky. They lose their hands and heads which are usually the most intricate part of a Buddha statue. They were repaired afterwards but not as radiant as before.
You can also find a statue of Guanyin or the Goddess of Mercy inside ‘the Sea of Wisdom”. The statue sits vertically on the lotus throne. It has a pure jade bottle in one hand and willow leaves in the other. At the sides of the entrance to the hall, on the other hand, are the statues of Manjusri and Samantabhadra. There are various mural paintings on the inside of the walls, the majority of which depicts auspicious flowers and clouds. This holy building’s name “the Sea of Wisdom” got its name from the sutra which symbolizes the mighty force and Tathagata Buddha’s infinite wisdom.
3. Rear Area of Longevity Hall
This area of the hall is quieter as compared to the front hill. Many of the constructions here were never rebuilt and only a few remained standing. That being said, the Rear Area of the Longevity Hall still offers a unique landscape full of dense green trees and winding paths.
Four Great Regions
This complex is composed of classical Tibetan Buddhist buildings and is known as the largest in Beijing. It was built in 1981 and was designed copying the famous Samye Monastery in Tibet.
The four Buddhist buildings around the central hall signify the 4 regions. Each of the building has its own unique appearance and has 2 smaller rectangular or hexagonal structures nearby, as well as a lama pagoda. The 8 structures pertain to the Eight Lesser Regions and the 4 pagodas in colors red, white, black and green signify the ‘4 wisdoms’ of sutra. Between the ‘four regions’ and the ‘eight lesser’ regions’ are two altars namely the Sun Altar and the Moon Altar. This provides an impression that the Buddha is bounded by the sun and the moon.
Suzhou Market Street
Located along the Back Lake is the Suzhou Market Street that is designed to imitate the ancient style of shops situated in the riverbanks of the Suzhou City, Jiangsu Province. This area was used as an entertainment place for the Emperors and concubines could feel that they were walking on a commercial street.
It was destroyed during the 1860 war and was only rebuilt in 1986. It was then reopened to the public in 1990. Today, there are various markets in the street such as souvenir shops, drugstores, banks, shoe stress, hockshops, and others.
Garden of Harmonious Interests
Beside the Kunming Lake is the Garden of Harmonious Interests that is also known as the ‘garden in the gardens’ because of its intricate design and unique layout.
The garden is noteworthy because of its eight settings that have different themes. The 8 settings are called the Zaishi Hall, the Momiao Room, the Jiuyun Tower, the Danbi House, The Shuile Pavilion, the Zhiyu Bridge, the Xunshi Path, and the Hanguang Hole. The interests or essence of each setting are as follows:
- Interest of Seasons: This garden changes its beauty as the season changes. In spring, there are willows waving in the breeze. In summer, numerous lotuses can be smelled all throughout the garden. In fall, the garden is transformed into a romantic heaven by the weeping willows. And in winter, the garden becomes an intricate landscape due to the snows that waft down to the trees and pavilions.
- Interest of Water: Gardeners built the Yuqin Goroge using the falls from the Back Lake. The water trickles as it passes the rocks which is making a beautiful sound. It is also called the ‘interest of sound’.
- Interest of Bridge: A number of bridges with different styles span the water here. The most famous one is the Know-the-Fish Bridge.
- Interest of Calligraphy: There are a lot of calligraphy examples that can be found in the Garden of Harmonious Interests like the Xushi Path stele, as well as the stone inscription in the Moyun Room.
- Interest of Pavilion: Located at the west corner of the garden is a pavilion. From the outside, the pavilion looks like a 1-story building but when you go inside, it appears to have 2 levels.
- Interest of Painting: Situated in the corridors of the garden are hundreds of paintings with different styles and themes such as allusions, historical figures, sceneries, and treasures of art.
- Interest of Corridor: This is a fascinating collection of twists and turns. It connects the exquisite rooms which give a unique chance for the visitors to view the garden’s landscape from different angles.
- Interest of Imitation: Even though the garden was built for a royal family, its style inspiration is from the Jichangyuan Garden which is a private garden.
4. Kunming Lake
This lake covers 3 quarters of the total area of the Summer Palace and is located at the convergence of a plain and the hills.
During the Yuan Dynasty, the Longevity Hill was called Weng Shan or Urn Mountain since it has an urn-like appearance. Its sizable lake is called the Wengshan Pool but was renamed as West Lake during the Ming Dynasty. But in 1750, Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty declared its name change to Kunming Lake that was to commemorate the inspection of Emperor Han Wu of his navy in Kunming Pool.
This causeway stretches from the northwest area of the Summer Palace up to its south. It divides the lake into 3 areas that have an island in the center. The 3 portions were made to resemble the legendary ‘three fairy islands in the East China Sea’ namely the Penglai, Yingzhou, and Fangzhang.
The West Causeway is linked by six bridges which were designed with different styles. They are the Jiehu or Lake-Boundary Bridge, the Bridge of Binfeng or Pastoral Poems, the Jade-Belt Bridge, The Mirror or Jing Bridge, the Lain or White-Silk Bridge, and the Willow or Liu Bridge.
The Jiehu Bridge is the border between the Front and Back Lake and can be reached by walking along the lake bank right beside the Farming and Weaving Scenic Area.
The Binfeng Bridge got its name from the collection of the first poetry in China called the Classic of Odes and it literally means ‘farming atmosphere’.
The most renowned among the 6 bridges in the West Causeway is the Jade-Belt Bridge. It is made of white and black marble and the only bridge here with arches. If you look at it from afar, you will see that it looks like a jade belt, hence, its name.
The Mirror Bridge, on the other hand, has a square opening and octagonal kiosk over the bridge. Its name is from a verse of Tang Dynasty’s Li Bai which says ‘two waters frame an unblemished mirror, twin bridges form a rainbow’.
The last 2 bridges, Lian Bridge and Willow Bridge, got their names from popular poems. They were destroyed during the 1860 war and was reconstructed in the late 1800s during the reign of Emperor Guangxu.
Opposite the Longevity Hall is the Nanhu Island lying at the southeast area of the Kunming Lake. When the lake was enlarged during the time of Emperor Qianlong, he asked the workers to save the buildings and temples but he ordered the land around such to be excavated. Thus, the Nanhu Island was created. It is one of the ‘three fairy islands on the ocean’ of the Kunming Lake that is the largest in the Summer Palace with a total area of around 1 hectare.
The island is also called the ‘South Lake Island’ and is banked with engraved stone-stripes and bounded by white and blue stones. It is linked to the East Causeway by the Seventeen-Arch Bridge on its southeast shore. You can also find ferry ships from the island to the northwest and southeast shores of the lake. The south of the island is mainly composed of structures while its northern part is full of rockeries and trees. The structures in the island are the Hanxu or Modesty Hall, Wangyan or Looking-at-the-Eaves Pavilion, Dragon King Temple, and other buildings.
An important building located in the southeastern portion of the island is the Guangrun Lingyu Temple or the Widely-Moistening Fancy-Rain Temple. It is also known as the Temple of the Dragon King since it was constructed on the ruins of the Temple of the Dragon God during the Ming Dynasty. Its main function was asking and praying for rain.
The largest individual construction on the island is the Hanxu Hall. It sits on a rockery ascent with a pedestal under the steps in the south. It links the Tower of Buddha Incense to the Longevity Hall if seen from afar.
Since the island looks like a big tortoise crawling in Kunming Lake and that a tortoise is longevity’s symbol, this island was definitely designed to highlight Cixi’s longevity during her 6oth birthday.
Back Lake and Wanzihe
Behind the Longevity Hall is the Back Lake of the Kunming Lake or the Houxi River which means Back Stream. This portion of the lake did not exist before and was only artificially designed by excavating the earth from the Back Stream area. When channel mouths, pass towers, rockeries, and bridges were built along the 1,000-meter river, six small lakes were formed.
To the west of the Marble Boat is the island named Xiaoxileng. The river between this island and the western slope of the Longevity Island is known as the Wanzihe. This area of the lake was once the Xisuo Market Street or the Small Suzhou Market Street which imitated the South China’s bazaar.
Stretching from the Wenchang Tower in the north until the Xiuyi Bridge is the south is the East Causeway. It has a clear view of the whole area including the West Hill, the pagoda on the hilltop, as well as the Jade Spring Mountain.
The Wenchang Tower is a 2-story structure that overlaps on a 10-meter-high square pass. Out of the 6 pass towers in the Summer Palace, it is considered the largest. During its reconstruction, a bronze statue of Wenchang Dijun or God of Cultural and Literature is retained in the tower. To its north is a small pavement that has a pavilion connecting the tiny island to the causeway. It is called the Pavilion of Heralding Spring which greets each spring with its willow trees.
Kuoru Pavilion, on the other hand, is considered the most prominent of the 40 pavilions in the Summer Palace. It is also the country’s largest pavilion. It is consists of 2 layers of eaves, a roof that has an octagon shape, 42 pillars, and an open corridor around it.
At the south end of the East Causeway is a monument that boasts engravings from 6 poems composed by Emperor Qianlong during her 29th year in the throne. When the poems came into being, the Xiuyi Bridge was built 5 years after. It signifies the border of the Kunming Lake and the Changhe River, as well as the West Causeway and the East Causeway.
Set on a bluestone wave-lined platform that overlooks Kunming Lake’s east shore is a life-sized Bronze Ox. It was cast in 1755 in the image of a live creature. It has an inscription on its back describing the importance of the bronze ox. It was placed on the bank of the lake as a sign of hope in preventing flood in the area.
It was initially glided with gold foil and was originally called the ‘gold ox’ but the foil got peeled off. Many said that the ox was also intended to monitor the water level in the lake. The grounds of the east bank of the Kunming Lake was constructed 10 meters higher than the Forbidden City so if the water reaches the east bank, the royal city will be in danger.
This bridge connects the eastern shore of the Kunming Lake and the Nanhu Island in the west. The Seventeen-Arch Bridge is the largest among the 30 bridges in the Summer Palace. It has a length of 150 meters and a width of 8 meters. It functions not only as a passage to Nanhu Island but also a significant attraction in the lake area.
It is indeed a unique scenery with a rainbow shape that arches over the water. The distinctive lions on the bridge’s columns totaled 544 and on the bridge’s ends are carved bizarre beasts.
The bridge’s east end is linked with the Kuoru Pavilion and opposite of the pavilion is the Bronze Ox. The stunning beauty of the bridge can surely be enjoyed while strolling along the East Causeway.
Situated at the northwest corner of Kunming Lake is the Marble Boat or Han Chuan (Land Boat). It is a non-navigable boat which was only made to enrich the beauty of the scenery.
It was constructed in 1755 with a base made out of huge stones. It was then rebuilt in 1893 after being destroyed from the fire of 1860. It was also renamed to Qingyan Fang and became a venue where Cixi can view the scenic view of the palace.
Today, the boat is the only western-style structure inside the Summer Palace. It is a 36-meter long boat with colorful glass windows and wheels. The roof of the pavilion in the boat is made of brick carvings and there are 4 dragon heads built in each direction of the boat which serves as drains. The outside of the boat is covered by a thick layer of moss and its pavement is designed with colored bricks.
How to get to Summer Palace
- By Subway, you can either take line 4 to the Beigongmen station exiting from gate D or the line 10 to the Bagou station. In Bagou station, transfer to the Western Suburban Line and alight at Yiheyuanximen Station.
- By bus, you can reach the east gate of summer palace by riding the bus 303, 331, 332, 346, 508, 579, or 584 and getting off at Yiheyuan Station. To reach the west gate, you can take bus 469 or 539 and get off at Yiheyuan Ximen Station. To go to the north palace gate, take the bus 303, 331, 346, 394, 563, 584, 594 or Sightseeing Bus Line 3, and alight at Yiheyuan Beigongmen Station. Lastly, to reach the new palace gate, you can take the bus 74, 374, or 437 and get off at the Xin Jian Gong Men Station
Map of Summer Palace
Summer Palace Ticket Fees
- Entrance fee to Summer Palace – CNY 30 from Apr-Oct and CNY 20 from Nov-Mar
- Dehe Garden – CNY 5
- Tower of Buddhist Incense – CNY 10
- Wenchang Hall – CNY 10
- Suzhou Street and Danning Hall – CNY 10
- Combo Ticket – CNY 60 from Apr-Oct and CNY 50 from Nov-Mar
Summer Palace Opening Hours
- 6:30 am to 6 pm from Apr-Oct; Scenic Spots are open from 8:30 am to 5 pm
- 7 am to 5 pm from Nov-Mar; Scenic spots are open from 9 am to 4 pm