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SUMMER PALACE (YIHEYUAN)

A vast landscaped park on the edge of the city, this seasonal imperial retreat from the stifling confines of the Forbidden City was the favored haunt of Empress Cixi. She had it rebuilt twice: once after its destruction by French and English troops in 1860, and again in 1902, after it was plundered during the Boxer Rebellion.

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Summer Palace (Yiheyuan)

NEED TO KNOW

prac_info 6 miles (10 km) NW of central Beijing • 6288 1144 • Subway: Bagou, then bus 394; Bei Gong Men • www.summerpalace-china.comOpen Apr–Oct: 6:30am–8pm (park) daily, 8:30am–5pm (sights) daily; Nov–Mar: 7am–7pm (park) daily, 9am–4pm (sights) daily; the last admission is two hours before closing • Adm ¥60 all inclusive (Nov–Mar ¥50); ¥30 park only (Nov–Mar ¥25); audio guides are available for ¥40 (plus ¥50 deposit)

Google Map

  • There are several small snack kiosks situated in the park grounds.
  • Avoid visiting on days with poor visibility when you risk missing the superb views across the Summer Palace lake.

1. Hall of Happiness and Longevity

Google Map

This impressive hall was the residence of the Empress Cixi. It has supposedly been left just as it was at the time of her death in 1908, complete with its Qing dynasty-era furniture.

2. Garden of Virtue and Harmony

Google Map

This pretty complex of roofed corridors, small pavilions, rock gardens, and pools also includes Cixi’s private three-story theater. The buildings now contain Qing-era artifacts, from vehicles to costumes and glassware.

3. Long Corridor

Google Map

From the Hall of Happiness and Longevity the rather aptly named Long Corridor zigzags along the shore of the lake, interrupted along its length by four pavilions. The corridor’s ceilings and beams are decorated with over 14,000 scenic paintings.

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Colourful paintings adorning the long corridor’s ceilings

4. Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha

Google Map

Toward the peak of Longevity Hill rises this octagonal tower. The stiff climb is rewarded with views over the roofs of the halls and pavilions to the lake below.

5. Longevity Hill

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At around the half-way point of the Long Corridor, a series of buildings ascends the slopes of Longevity Hill. The start of the sequence is marked at the lakeside by a fine decorative gate.

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The lakeside view of the Longevity Hill

6. Suzhou Street

Google Map

This shopping street was built for the amusement of the Qianlong emperor, his concubines and eunuchs, who would play at being shoppers, shopkeepers, and pickpockets.

7. Temple of the Sea of Wisdom

Google Map

North of the Fragrance of the Buddha Tower is a tiled temple decorated with glazed Buddhist effigies, many of which have sadly been vandalized.

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Sculptures of Buddhist that decorate the temple

8. Seventeen-Arch Bridge

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South Lake Island is linked to the eastern shore by a bridge with a lion crowning each of the 544 balusters along its length, all supposedly individual. An impressive-looking bronze ox rests on the eastern shore.

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The scenic bridge with seventeen arches

9. South Lake Island

Google Map

Crowning this island on Kunming Lake is the Dragon King Temple (Longwang Miao), which is dedicated to the god of rivers, seas, and rain.

10. Marble Boat

Google Map

The wooden structure of the boat is painted white to look like marble. Boat trips to South Lake Island depart from a neighboring jetty.

EMPRESS CIXI

Cixi is remembered as one of China’s most powerful women. Having borne one emperor’s son as an imperial concubine, she became the power behind the throne to two more: her son and her nephew. When she blocked state reforms and lent support to the xenophobic Boxers in their rebellion, she unwittingly paved the way for the end of the imperial era.

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