Summer Palace | Beijing, China
More than what it is as an imperial residence, the Summer Palace is the most profound expression of garden art in China. Infact, UNESCO lists it as a World Heritage Site for excellent landscape garden design.
The Summer Palace was the opulent lair of Empress Dowager Cu Xi.
It was built in 1750 in Haidan District in Beijing as a royal garden for entertainment & recreation. But after a century from its construction, Opium War destroyed many parts of it & left it in chaos. Emperor Guangxu rebuilt it for Empress Cu Xi & later named it the Summer Palace.
I visited the Summer Palace on my first day in China. I have to admit it was quite overwhelming for a first-timer to swim in a sea of people. I got there early in the morning but to my surprise there was already an unbelievable throng of domestic tourists.
It covers a breadth of 2.9 square kilometers. But there seem to be someone on every square meter. Tourists converge mostly on the front side of Longevity Hill & Kunming Lake.
Take the back hill part if you like some quiet time. Here, you can stroll along peach blossom lines & cedar trees. The gardens, like what it is famous for are punctuated by rock art & pretty flowers, bridges & pagodas.
The Summer Palace is not only a horticultural showpiece but also an architectural marvel. The pavilions are intricately detailed according to its historic building styles. It preserves its ancient construction techniques that have inspired modern engineering around the world.
The pavilions are home to precious art archives like very old paintings, religious artifacts & calligraphy scrolls. It also keeps treasures that were amassed during & before the reign of Empress Cu Xi.
A good leisurely exploration of the Summer Palace takes a full day. Journey around the ensemble of courtyards, temples, gardens & lake to experience its 18th century grandeur. But if you’re constrained with time, skip the ferry ride & just marvel at its expanse from the Longevity Hill.
The influence of Chinese garden art had panned in a massive way. In fact, its artistic elements are replicated throughout the world. A visit to the Summer Palace is a sure treat of China’s exquisite historic archives.
How to Get to the Summer Palace
By Subway (most recommended)
- Take Line 5 & get off at Beigongmen Station.
- Alternatively, you may get off at Xiyuan Station.
- Just follow the road signs that lead to the nearest gate.
- Take Bus Number 330, 331, 332, 346, 508, 579.
- Get off at Yiheyuan Station.
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