The Summer Palace, a world-renowned imperial garden, is situated 15 kilometers from downtown Beijing. It was first named the Garden of Clear Ripples, which was burnt down by the allied forces of Great Britain and France in 1860. It was rebuilt in 1888 with an investment of 30 million taels of silver and renamed the Summer Palace. Covering 293 hectares, the Summer Palace mainly consists of the Longevity Hill and the Kunming Lake, and boasts more than 3,000 various buildings. The garden can be divided into three parts, namely, administration, residence and scenery area.
The scenery area is the essential part of the Summer Palace, consisting of the Kunming Lake and the Longevity Hill (Front Hill and Rear Hill).
Longevity Hill, located on the northern bank of the Kunming Lake, is divided into two parts, the Front Hill and the Rear Hill. The structures in the Front Hill begins in the Gate of Dispelling Clouds, passes the Hall of Dispelling Clouds, the Hall of Moral Brilliance and the Tower of Buddhist Incense in turn, and finally ends in the Sea of Wisdom on the mountaintop, forming an axis of the whole garden. At the foot of the hill is the Long Corridor, renowned as the First Corridor in the World, which is more than 700 meters long and features over 8,000 colored paintings. Besides the gallery lies the Kunming Lake,
The Rear Hill, different from the Front Hill, is quiet and elegant. A path circles down the hill with trees and brooks scattering here and there. Main structures in the Rear Hill include the Suzhou Market Street, the Garden of Harmonious Interests, etc. On the eastern part of the Rear Hill lies the Garden of Harmonious Interests, which was built in imitation of Jichangyuan Garden in Wuxi of Suzhou City during the reign of Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty. The garden is small and exquisite and thus renowned as the Garden within a Garden.
Ingeniously conceived and elaborately designed, the Summer Palace, concentrating the features of the gardens in southern and northern China, is reputed as the soul of the Chinese gardens.The administration area, taking the Halls of Benevolence and Longevity as its principal part, is the place where Empress Dowager Cixi dealt with state affairs and received officials. Behind the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity are three large-scale quadrangles: Hall of Joyful Longevity, Hall of Jade Billows and Chamber of Mortal Beings, which used to be residence of Cixi, Emperor Guangxu and Empress Longyu, the wife of Emperor Guangxu, respectively. To the East of the Chamber of Mortal Beings is the Garden of Virtue and Harmony, which, covering an area of 3,000 sqm, mainly consists of the Theatre Building and the Hall of Nurtured Joy.