The Summer Palace (頤和園 Yihe Yuan) in Beijing is one magnificent compound that was once the royalties’ holiday place. With an astonishing 720 acres of land, it is the world’s largest imperial landscape palace. Back in 1750, when Emperor Qianlong built the Summer Palace for his mother as an act of filial piety, the palace was known as the Garden of Clear Ripples (清漪園 Qingqi Yuan). In 1860, it was destroyed by the Anglo-French allied forces, rebuilt by Empress Dowager Cixi in 1886, who misappropriated the funds from the Navy to reconstruct the palace and renamed it the Summer Palace. The palace again went through another cycle of destruction by the eight allied powers and later restored again.
The entrance fee for the Summer Palace is RMB 30. Some of the gardens and halls including Suzhou Street, Garden of Virtue & Harmony, Tower of Buddhist Incense, and Wengchang Pavilion are not inclusive in this ticket. If you wish, you may buy a full ticket at RMB 60 which will allow full admission to the above places, or you may buy separate tickets for the various gardens at RMB 10 for each place. I do recommend visiting these additional gardens because they are more well maintained compared to other parts of Summer Palace.
If you go to the Summer Palace via the Beigongmen MRT Station like us, Suzhou Street will be one of the first places you encounter. The architecture of Suzhou Street is literally based on one of the streets in Suzhou, a charming water town in the Jiangnan area where Emperor Qianlong often visited an fell in love with. We had a surprisingly good lunch at one of the restaurants there too!
Nearby Suzhou Street is the Four Great Regions (四大部州 buzSida Buzhou), a religious Tibetan Buddhist compound originally built more than 200 years ago. The one that we see today is a rebuilt from 1980.
A golden Buddha in the temple.
A few different kinds of stupas and pagodas around.
The compound sits on a hill so be ready climb a bit and back down again.
I was really looking forward to see the 36 m long marble boat made from an enormous piece of stone, unable to sail but solely for entertainment purposes. Unfortunately it was under restoration during our visit.
While it is the longest corridor in the world, it is probably the most congested corridor in the world too with tour groups from every part of the world, wandering around or taking a break on the benches.
A quieter section of the corridor.
If you are familiar with Chinese culture, you might be able recognize some stories on the paintings. This painting here depicts the black-faced Justice Bao from Song Dynasty.
A scene from Journey to the West.
And many more.
The Studio of Serene Beauty (Qinghua Xuan 清華軒) was originally a religious building, housing 500 arhats. That too, was burnt down by the French-Anglo Allied forces and rebuilt again later. The marble bridge and the octagonal pond are two of the rarer items that survived the attack.
Today, the studio exhibits a collection of photos entitled “The Vicissitudes of a Famous Garden – Summer Palace Old Photo Show” with more than 100 pieces of precious photos and paintings that documented the former glory and the decline of Summer Palace.
The Tower of Buddhist Incense sits atop of Longevity Hill overlooking Kunming Lake, housing a Thousand Hand Kuan Yin Buddha that’s almost 450 years old. Both Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake are man-made. The size of Kunming Lake is 544 acres. The soil was dug out from Kunming Lake to make the lake and the subsequent soil was used to build Longevity Hill. With all that much soil from 544 acres of land, you can imagine we had to huff and puff up the hill to see the tower!
Along the way on Longevity Hill, there is also the Hall of Dispelling Clouds (排雲殿 Paiyun Dian) where Empress Dowager Cixi celebrated her birthday and some of her birthday gifts are still kept there; and also the Hall of Virtuous Splendor (德輝殿 Dehui Dian), which once was the Empress’s changing room though today it’s an exhibition hall that displays various kinds of eaves-tiles used in the making of Summer Palace.
The Tower of Buddhist Incense is an excellent place to get a bird’s eye-view of Summer Palace and the 17 Arch Bridge on Kunming Lake. That’s pretty much as close as I could get to the bridge because the Summer Palace is too big and we had no more energy to walk to the bridge at the end of the day.
The Garden of Virtue and Harmnoy (德和園 Dehe Yuan) is in the vicinity of Tower of Buddhist Incense. The Empress watched Beijing opera shows on The Great Stage located within the Garden. The Great Stage is a state of the art, three leveled stage where actors could descend from above or escape from below, performing an exciting show for the Empress. Various shows include musical shows, dances and operas are performed at the Great Stage at different times. The shows are hourly, starting at 9am – 4pm and each show lasts 30 minutes.
As we walked our way towards the East Gate (東宫門 Dongongmen), we get closer to Empress Dowager Cixi’s living quarters. The Empress stayed in Hall of Happiness and Longevity (Leshou Tang 樂壽堂) which has a gigantic blue iris stone placed in front of it. The stone is also known as “stone of the wastrel” meaning that anyone associated with it will be focusing too much on the stone, throwing their fortune away. Indeed, the government official from the Ming Dynasty that first discovered the stone spent too much money, trying to relocate the stone to his home. He had insufficient funds, was unable to complete the relocation and had to abandon the stone. The stone was later moved by Emperor Qianlong into the Summer Palace. I guess only the emperor had that kind of money to move such a big stone!
Next to the Empress’ place is chief court eunuch Li Liangying’s liver quarters- the Longevity Chamber (Youngshou Zai 永壽齋). Li Liangying was a very powerful man during the late Qing Dynasty and he was the Empress’ favorite eunuch too.
The Hall of Benevolence & Longevity (Renshou Dian) was where the Empress and Emperor Guangxu handled their daily official matters and where they greeted foreign officials.
As you’ve seen by now, many halls are named along the lines of longevity. Even the stone that’s placed in front of Hall of Benevolence & Longevity is called the “Longevity God Stone” because the shape resembles the Longevity God.
The main entrance that leads to the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity.
Finally, our last stop in the Summer Palace was the Wengchang Pavilion (文昌院) – where royal treasures are exhibited.
At the end of our visit, I saw the map and I realized we only managed to walk around the north part of Kunming Lake. Be prepared to be blown away by the vastness of Summer Palace and be prepared to walk and climb lots!
Our visit ended at the East Gate, which is a distance from the Beigongmen MRT Station we came from. We were relived to see trisahw service as we didn’t want to walk all the way back again! The trishaw took us back to the MRT Station (I think it was RMB 5 – RMB 10) and we called it a day!
Summer Palace Official Website
Operating Hours: 1st April – 31st October
Summer Palace Daily: 6.30 am – 6pm
Various Hall & Gardens that require a separate entrance ticket: Daily 8.30am – 5 pm
Operating Hours: 1st November – 31st March
Summer Palace: Daily 7 am – 5 pm
Various Hall & Gardens that require a separate entrance ticket: Daily 9 am – 4 pm
Getting there: Beigongmen (北宫门) MRT Station.
- Suzhou Street @ Summer Palace, Beijing China (alwaystravelicious.com)
- The Tower of Buddhist Incense @ Summer Palace, Beijing (alwaystravelicious.com)
- The Garden of Virtue & Harmony @ Summer Palace , Beijing (alwaystravelicious.com)