The Summer Palace, located ten kilometers to the northwest of Beijing, used to be a summer residence of Qing Dynasty emperors and is now a public park. It is an imperial garden known far and wide for its architectural grandeur and stunning natural beauty.
Having the largest royal park and being well preserved, it was designated, in 1960 by the State Council, as a Key Cultural Relics Protection Site of China. Containing examples of the ancient arts, it also has graceful landscapes and magnificent constructions. The Summer Palace is the archetypal Chinese garden, and is ranked amongst the most noted and classical gardens of the world. In 1998, it was listed as one of the World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.
Originally constructed in the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234), during the succeeding reign of feudal emperors, the Summer Palace was extended continuously. By the time of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), it had become a luxurious royal garden providing royal families with rest and entertainment. Originally called "Qingyi Garden" (Garden of Clear Ripples), it was known as one of the famous "three hills and five gardens" (Longevity Hill, Jade Spring Mountain, and Fragrant Hill; Garden of Clear Ripples, Garden of Everlasting Spring, Garden of Perfection and Brightness, Garden of Tranquility and Brightness, and Garden of Tranquility and Pleasure). Like most of the gardens of Beijing, it could not elude the rampages of the Anglo-French allied force and was destroyed by fire. In 1888, Empress Dowager Cixi embezzled navy funds to reconstruct it for her own benefit, changing its name to Summer Palace (Yiheyuan). She spent most of her later years there, dealing with state affairs and entertaining. In 1900, it suffered again, being ransacked by the Eight-Power Allied Force. After the success of the 1911 Revolution, it was opened to the public.
Covering an area of 304 hectares, the Summer Palace features hill and water scenery. The Kunming Lake makes up four-fifths of this royal park. The Long Corridor running east-west along the lake as well as the Pavilion of the Fragrance of Buddha, the Sea of Wisdom, and the Hall of Dispelling the Clouds and Suzhou Street standing south to north on the Longevity Hill are the major scenic spots. The Pavilion of the Fragrance of Buddha, 41 meters high, is decorated with glazed tiles. Its walls were carved with 1,008 niches and images of Buddha. The Marble Boat at the western end of the Long Corridor is a noted structure on water. Built in 1755, the boat, having a length of 36 meters, was made completely out of marble. There is a mirror on each of its two decks to reflect lake water. Sitting before the mirror gives a feeling of sitting on the ripples of water.