Summer Palace

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Not to be confused with Old Summer Palace.
For other uses, see Summer Palace (disambiguation).

Coordinates: 39°59′51.00″N 116°16′8.04″E / 39.9975000°N 116.2689000°E / 39.9975000; 116.2689000

UNESCO World Heritage Site
Summer Palace, an Imperial Garden in Beijing
Name as inscribed on the World Heritage List
The Summer Palace in Beijing
Type Cultural
Criteria i, ii, iii
Reference 880
UNESCO region Asia-Pacific
Inscription history
Inscription 1998 (22nd Session)

The Summer Palace (simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ; pinyin: Yíhé Yuán) is a vast ensemble of lakes, gardens and palaces in Beijing, China. The Summer Palace is mainly dominated by Longevity Hill and the Kunming Lake. It covers an expanse of 2.9 square kilometres (1.1 sq mi), three-quarters of which is water.

Longevity Hill is about 60 meters (200 feet) high and has many buildings positioned in sequence. The front hill is rich with splendid halls and pavilions, while the back hill, in sharp contrast, is quiet with natural beauty.

The central Kunming Lake covering 2.2 square kilometres (540 acres) was entirely man-made and the excavated soil was used to build Longevity Hill. In the Summer Palace, one finds a variety of palaces, gardens, and other classical-style architectural structures.

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.


When the Jin Dynasty emperor Wányán Liàng (February 24, 1122 – December 15, 1161 CE) moved his capital to the Beijing area, he had a Wang hill Palace built on the site of the hill. In the Yuan Dynasty, the hill was renamed from Wang hill to Jug Hill (Weng Shan). This name change is explained by a legend according to which a jar with a treasure inside was once found on the hill. The loss of the jar is said to have coincided with the fall of the Ming Dynasty as had been predicted by its finder.

The Qianlong Emperor (r. 1735-1796) of the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911), who commissioned work on the imperial gardens on the hill in 1749, gave Longevity Hill its present-day name in 1752, in celebration of the 60th birthday of his mother, Empress Dowager Chongqing.

The Summer Palace started out life as the 'Garden of Clear Ripples' (simplified Chinese: 清漪园; traditional Chinese: 清漪園; pinyin: Qīngyī Yuán) in 1750 (Reign Year 15 of Qianlong Emperor). 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.

In 1860 the British and French burned the palace down at the end of the Second Opium War (the Old Summer Palace also ransacked at the same time). The punitive action was undertaken in response to the torture and killing of a European peace delegation that included Thomas William Bowlby. The destruction of large parts of the palace complex still evokes strong emotions among some in China.[1]

In 1888, it was given the current name, Yihe Yuan. It served as a summer resort for Empress Dowager Cixi, and 3 million taels of silver, said to be originally designated for the Chinese navy (Beiyang Fleet), went into the reconstruction and enlargement of the Summer Palace. This diversion of funds away from the military came just six years before the First Sino-Japanese War, which China lost. The palace was, in 1894, due to be the center of the celebrations of Cixi's sixtieth birthday, yet, the war with Japan forced her to cancel the elaborate plans.

The Summer Palace was slighted a second time in 1900 during the Boxer Rebellion when it was seized by the eight allied powers. The garden was burned and mostly destroyed. Many of the Palace's artefacts were divided among the eight allied nations. These are still retained by various countries - such as France and United Kingdom - much to the annoyance of the modern Chinese government.

The Summer Palace has been under restoration since its destruction. However the main obstacle to the work has been the lack of original plans that would aid the rebuilding work.

Circa 1888 pictorial plan of the Summer Palace.


On its southern slope, Longevity Hill is adorned with an ensemble of grand buildings: The Cloud-Dispelling Hall, where Cixi held her birthday celebrations, the Temple of Buddhist Virtue, and the Sea of Wisdom Temple form a south-north (lakeside - peak) oriented axis which is flanked by various other buildings. In the center of the Temple of Buddhist Virtue stands the Tower of Buddhist Incense (Fo Xiang Ge), which forms the focal point for the buildings on the southern slope of Longevity Hill. The tower is built on a 20-meter-tall stone base, is 41 meters high with three stories and supported by eight ironwood (lignumvitae) pillars. Other notable buildings at the Summer Palace, include the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity, where Empress Dowager Cixi, and her nephew, Emperor Guangxu, held court, the Hall of Happiness and Longevity, which was Cixi's residence, the Hall of Jade Ripples, where the Emperor Guangxu resided, and Yiyuan Hall, which was next door to the Hall of Jade Ripples and was the residence of Empress Longyu. A luxury resort has been fashioned from an area once used as a waiting room for those seeking an audience with the Empress Dowager Cixi.[2]


The Summer Palace is located northwest of Beijing's center in Haidian District, between the Fourth and Fifth Ring Roads. Head north at Suzhou Bridge on the north-western 3rd Ring Road, north at Sihai Bridge on the north-western 4th Ring Road, or south at the northern 5th Ring Road at the Zhongguancun/Beiqing Road exit. Public transportation also serves the Summer Palace.



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