Beijing offers some of the most unique and gorgeous attractions in the world including the Temple of Heaven and the Great Wall. Yet, those two can be overshadowed by the Summer Palace. This must-see attraction in Beijing is one that will offer you a unique experience for every single season.
The summer palace has been in existence since the age f the Jin dynasty and has seen the passings of many imperial families. As with any new dynasty, changes will be made and that is exactly what has happened to the Summer Palace. However, it was during the Qing dynasty that the Summer Palace became what it is known for today.
Many people find it hard to see everything that the Summer Palace holds. There are those details in the palace that can truly become lifelong memories if you know what you are looking for. While one trip is usually not going to be enough to catch it all in, we are going to walk you through the top ten sights within the Summer Palace.
The Hall of Benevolence and Longevity
There are many ways to enter into the Summer Palace park, the best starting point should be at the east gate. Here you will purchase your tickets and slowly move through some of the gathering crowds, and come across your first grand structure, the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity
This was the grand building that Empress Dowager Cixi continued to influence the political landscape of Beijing after Emperor Guangxu took power in 1889.
The grand hall features an incredible throne that is surrounded by various golden ornaments and peacocks as well as 200 variations of the character longevity, which translates into long life. This is a theme you will see many times over throughout the palace as it was later designed for rest and relaxation.
The Dragon and Phoenix
As you walk around the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity, you will be sure to notice the bronze phoenix and dragon. What makes these statues unique is the fact that their locations are reversed. The dragon which usually represents the emperor holds the spot that is usually reserved for the Phoenix or in this case the empress, which shows the power that Empress Dowager Cixi held.
The Garden of Virtue and Harmony
As you exit out of the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity, you will find yourself in the Garden of Virtue and Harmony, an immense complex that features the Grand Theater.
Empress Dowager Cixi was a huge fan of the Peking Opera and had this area constructed purely for her enjoyment during the rebuilding stage. To this day, the performance area is still one of the countries most impressive and largest. The area is fitted with three tiers that are connected by various trap doors, as well as incredible special effects that offered the Empress incredible performances.
Be sure to take note of the gorgeous Hall of Nurtured Joy, which is where Empress Dowager would have watched these spectacular shows.
This is a paid attraction but is one that should not be missed while visiting the Summer Palace.
The Hall of Joyful Longevity
As you traverse through the Summer Palace, you will eventually meet up with a huge rock and the Hall of Joyful Longevity.
The structure was originally built under the supervision of Qianlong, the Qing dynasty emperor for his mother’s sixtieth birthday! However, this gorgeous building was burnt to the ground by the British and French forces, it was rebuilt to its grand state by Empress Dowager Cixi in 1891.
One of the biggest questions have is what is the deal with the big rock sitting outside of the Hall of Joyful Longevity.
Blue Iris Stone
This is perhaps one of the most historical rocks you will ever come face to face with and you are going to understand that history as you admire this eight-meter-wide, four-meter-tall stone The stone was discovered by a local stone enthusiast Mi Wanzhong in what is now the Fangshan district. It was here that Wanzhong used all of his wealth to purchase the stone and try to transport it back to his residence. However, with no money left, he would ultimately have to leave the rock halfway.
After Wanzhong’s financial ruin the stone would be given the unofficial name of Baijashi, which ultimately translates to the stone of financial ruin. Eventually, Qing emperor Qianlong came across this mysterious stone and wanted to have it moved to the Summer Palace where he would be able to admire it whenever he wished. However, his mother opposed this move as she believed financial ruin would be in their families destiny as well!
Qianlong told his mother that the stone resembled a fungus that would offer a long life, to which his mother allowed the stone to be brought to the Summer Palace. However, many locals still fear the rock and refuse to go near it or be photographed for fear of financial ruin. So take care if you plan on posing with this dastardly rock.
There are going to be some areas of the palace that are just not that easy to see or find and our next attraction is one of those. There is a path that makes its way to the Heralding Spring Pavilion and here you will find one of those little memory makers we talked about. There is an incredible group of artists that paint calligraphy with water on the pavement and so many people miss this wonderful opportunity. Be sure to find these artists and enjoy the incredible beauty they make, even if it lasts only a fleeting moment.
The Heralding Spring Pavilion
For some of the most incredible views from the Summer Palace, one needs to head over to the Heralding Spring Pavilion, which will allow you breathtaking views of the western mountains. During the Spring and Falls seasons, the view is absolutely stunning as the mountains truly come to life with some of the most vivid colors you will ever see.
This is perhaps one of the best areas to simply sit down and reflect upon the beauty of the area and give your feet a little bit of a breather!
The long corridor was said to be built for facilitating Emperor Qianlong’s mother to view the snow-rain landscape of Kunming Lake. This 728-meter-long corridor is also the longest corridor in Chinese gardens with its rich painted decoration (more than 14,000 paintings). If you consider yourself a art buff, the long corridor is an excellent opportunity to see some amazing paints, depicting episodes from Chinese classical literature, folk tales, both historical and legendary figures, flowers, birds, animal. Along the long corridor, there are four octagonal pavilions, symbolizing the four seasons (spring, summer, autumn, winter).
The Marble Boat
Also known as the Boat of Purity and Ease, is a lakeside pavilion on the grounds of the Summer Palace. The boat is not entirely made of marble, but has some wood sub assemblies. This luxurious boat has its historical origin with a prominent prime minister Wei Zheng in Tang Dynasty (618-907), who told the emperor, ‘The waters can float the boat, but it can tip it over.’ In the words, he compared the relationship between the emperor and his people as that between a boat and waters. In this way, he suggested that the common people can support a good emperor or overthrow a bad emperor. Emperor Qianlong had the firm boat made of stone, hoping that the reign of the Qing Dynasty would never be lasted forever.
The Bronze Ox
Many people may wonder why they should stop and look at the statue of an ox. Considering it dates back to 1755 and offers a great view of Kunming Lake are just two reasons. It is perhaps just one other area where you can stop and take in all of the beauty that the Summer Palace offers. Many will never get the chance to make a return visit, so be sure to enjoy the little things like this ox, as they are what the Summer Palace is all about. The Summer Palace is not designed to be rushed through, it is a place to enjoy and reflect on the beauty of life.