Time allowing, the Summer Palace is well worth a visit for its historical significance and to enjoy strolling its spacious grounds. You may take a boat ride across the lake if you prefer not to walk. Located 15 km northwest from the central city and occupying an area of about 300 hectares, the Summer Palace is associated with the Qing dynasty's dowager empress Cixi, but has a history of more than 800 years as an imperial garden dating back to the 1150s.
The name in Chinese, Yiheyuan, means "garden of restful peace." It served as a suburban pleasance for emperors, a place in the countryside yet near the capital.
The Yiheyuan in its present form dates from Manchu rule over China, 1644-1911. In the 1750s the emperor Qianlong commanded the creation of the lake and redesigned the temple atop Longevity Hill. Severely damaged during the punitive Anglo-French expedition of 1860 the Empress Dowager ordered its restoration in the 1880s. It became a public park in 1924.
The Long Corridor - The function of corridors in Chinese garden architecture is offer a sheltered passageway from direct sun as well as inclement weather when passing between buildings. The corridor in the Summer Palace, over 700 meters long, is interspersed with a quartet of double-eave octagonal pavilions symbolizing each of the four seasons. The horizontal support beams inside the corridor are painted with scenes from West Lake in Hangzhou, as well as figures from fables and history, landscapes and flowers.
The 150 meter long 17 Arch Bridge was built in 1750 by the Qing emperor Qianlong. Linking the eastern edge of Kunming lake with the Dragon King Temple on Nanhu (or Penglai) islet, the rationale behind the span having 17 arches has to do with Chinese numerology. The number eight is a homonym for luck or wealth in Mandarin Chinese. The ninth arch, the largest, is considered the number most auspicious for emperors, thus the Son of Heaven is symbolically positioned in the middle of good fortune on both sides. The span is partially patterned after the famed Marco Polo Bridge in southwest Beijing. There are 544 stone lions on the railings.
The infamous Marble Boat was completed in 1893 using money that had been earmarked for the creation of a modern Chinese Navy in 1886. The order to divert funds was quietly issued by the notorious Empress Dowager Cixi in collusion with corrupt court eunuchs. The marble base of the boat was originally a platform for a Ming dynasty Buddhist monastery where fish and birds intended for the marketplace were released by the devout in order to gain karmic merit. The ship itself is a reproduction of a steam paddleboat. In 1903 Cixi had the wooden top storey added along with colored glass and mirrors positioned to give the illusion of floating on the water.
Average time for this activity : 2 hrs
Opening hours : 7:00am until 5:00pm with last admission at 5:00pm