A Retreat from the Forbidden City for Royals
Beijing’s Summer Palace is a large complex comprising the largest royal park in China. As the name implies, it was used as a summer residence by China’s imperial rulers as a retreat from the Forbidden City – a pleasure ground in the countryside, yet close to the city.
The original gardens that eventually became the Summer Palace date from the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234) and make a virtual museum of traditional Chinese gardening with rocks, plants, pavilions, ponds, cobble paths and other garden styles to create a poetic effect.
Later, the Mongol Emperor Kublai Khan (Yuan Dynasty, 1279-1368) ordered the construction of canals to transport water from the nearby hills to the Summer Palace with the lake, now called KunMing Lake, acting as a reservoir
Then in 1750, Emperor Qian Long (1736-1796) of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) added substantially to the gardens of the Summer Palace. His designers reproduced the styles of various palaces and gardens from around China. In 1860, the Anglo-French Allied Forces invaded Beijing and set fire to many of the buildings within the Summer Palace.
In 1888, Dowager Empress CiXi used embezzled funds from the Imperial Navy to restore the grand gardens. After completion, she renamed the gardens YiHeYuan or Garden of Peace and Harmony.
When CiXi moved her administration to YiHeYuan in 1889, the gardens that had long been an imperial pleasure ground became the primary Summer Palace.
The Summer Palace was opened to the public in 1911. Then, after the last Qing Emperor PuYi was thrown out in 1924, it was turned into a park. In 1960, the State Council designated it a Key Cultural Relics Protection Site of China, and in 1998, it was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Don’t miss it when you’re in Beijing.