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The Summer Palace

The Summer Palace, Beijing
The Summer Palace – Royal Family’s summer getaway

The Summer Palace is one of Beijing’s most enjoyable sights, an idyllic landscape garden quite in contrast to the bustling city nearby. It has been a summertime playground of the Royal family for centuries. The Emperors and their companions came here to escape the oppressive heat of Beijing and enjoy the lakeside scenery.

Now, the palace throngs with tour groups, especially in the summer months, but if you’re patient you’ll find a few quiet moments when you’ll understand why so many generations of royalty loved this place.

Summer Palace History

The Summer Palace was extensively embellished in the 1700s, only to once again fall into disrepair. In 1888 the Empress Dowager Cixi (who presided over the crumbling Qing dynasty) diverted funds meant for the construction of a modern navy to turning the palace into her personal playground. The closest any of the money got to the sea was the marble boat she had built by the lakeside, and her conniving advisors thought it a rather witty act of defiance.

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The park was ransacked by British and French troops in 1900, and was restored, but once again fell into disrepair during the chaos of civil war. Most of the buildings to be seen today date from after the Communist take-over.

Summer Palace Layout

The park is dominated by Kūnmíng Hú (Kunming Lake, which covers ¾ of the park’s area) and Wànshòu Shān (Longevity Hill). Both the lake and the hill are manmade. Kunming Lake was previously a reservoir which had been used to irrigate the surrounding countryside for millennia. It is used for ice skating in winter.

Most visitors enter through the East gate. Kunming Lake lies to the South and South East of here, and is dotted with tranquil pavilions and arched bridges. The ‘Seventeen Arch Bridge’ is one of the most well known of the Summer Palace landmarks.

The Long Gallery, painted with scenes from myth, runs West along the lakeshore from the East Gate. Various temples and pavilions branch off. It is said that no pair of lovers can walk through the Long Gallery without becoming betrothed. The infamous jade boat is at the Western end of the Long Corridor.

Longevity Hill is just north of the Long Corridor, and is topped by the Sea of Wisdom Temple (Huìhăi Sì – 慧海寺), the best place for views over the lake. On the Western slope is the Cloud Dispelling Hall, (Páiyún Diàn – 排云殿), which survived the Anglo French destruction of 1900. The squat pagoda which dominates the scene, (and most Summer Palace postcards), is the Tower of Buddhist Incense (Fóxiāng Gé – 佛香阁).

Summer Palace Practical Information

Allow yourself at the very least two hours to get round the park. It could use up a whole day if you let it.

A taxi from the city centre to the Summer Palace will cost around 40-60RMB. Alternatively, get the underground to Xizhimen (Xīzhímén – 西直门), then a taxi from there will be about 20RMB. Buses 907, 375, 801, 808, and 718 call at the Summer Palace.

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