The Summer Palace is 20 km northwest of Beijing.
The grounds of the palace cover an area of 659 acres, over three
quarters of which are water (Kunming Lake). The fourth quarter is
Longevity Hill on which you will find the various buildings. To
escape the heat of the city proper the emperor and his court came
here in the summer and the various residences and other edifices
became known as the Summer Palace.
In the twelfth century the first palace
was built here. Called the Garden of Golden Waves. The Yuan Dynasty
carried out a large excavation project to increase the lake's size.
The Ming Dynasty added the Temple of Perfect Tranquillity and several
pavilions and called it the Garden of Wonderful Hills. During the
Qing Dynasty the largest construction was accomplished under Emperor
Qian Long and he renamed the entire area, Garden of Clear Waves.
All his work was done in honor of his mother's birthday and he named
the hill, Longevity Hill, in her honor. It is still called that
In the mid-nineteenth century the area was burned
by the Anglo-French allied forces. In 1888 the Dowager Empress Ci
Xi took the money meant for improving the navy and rebuilt the area,
giving it its present name, the Garden Where Peace is Cultivated.
In 1900 foreign forces again severely damaged the area, but it was
repaired in 1903.
The entrance to the Summer Palace is the Eastern
Palace Gate. As you pass through this Gate you will see various
palaces: on the right, the Palace of Virtue and Harmony, which houses
a three-story theater in the center; at the far end, the Hall of
Goodwill and Longevity, where the various emperors held audience;
on the shore of the lake, the Jade Waves Palace, where Ci Xi held
Emperor Guang Xu prisoner; and a little up, also on the lake, the
Palace of Joy and Longevity, which was Ci Xi's residence.
A long, covered passageway 7,388 ft. (728 m.)
long, follows the side of the lake. This is decorated with historical
and mythological scenes. The landscape scenes of Hangzhou date back
to the eighteenth century and Emperor Qian Long's birthday present
to his mother. As you walk along this covered way you will come
to the Hall of Regular Clouds, and, at its end, the famous marble
boat built by Ci Xi when she rebuilt the entire area with navy funds.
If you climb the stairs to the top of Longevity
Hill there is a beautiful view of the lake and the surrounding countryside
including the seventeen-arch bridge of Long Wang Miao Island (located
in the center of Lake Kun Ming). The Fo Xiang Ge Pagoda is located
on the southern slope of this Hill. Four stories high (150 ft. or
14.7 m., it contains statues of the Buddha and his followers. North
of the Fo Xiang Ge, on the top of Longevity Hill, is the Zhi Hui
Hai (the Sea of Wisdom). This is a rectangular building and the
large reclining Buddha inside was cast from fifty thousand pieces
of copper, requiring seven thousand men to complete it.
Located near the Marble Boat is a restaurant,
Ting Li Guan (Oriole Hall). Housed in a building which was originally
a theater, the restaurant specializes in fresh fish. To the north
of the restaurant note the gazebo built against the rocks.
If you have the time, the grounds of the Summer
Palace contain other pavilions, pagodas, gazebos, and a beautiful
garden. It is a delightful area for a relaxing walk.