The Summer Palace

The Summer Palace


Longevity Hill 0584_2 cropped header

Most of the time, the Emperor did not actually live in the Forbidden city – Beijing can be very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter. Instead he lived outside the city, in the Summer Palace. The original Summer Palace was sadly  burnt down by the British in 1860 as a reprisal, but  a New Summer palace was built by the subsequent Dowager Empress Cixi, and today this is a very popular resort.

Summer palace Entrance 0575

Some 10 miles north-west of the Forbidden City lies the Summer Palace, in what is today the outskirts of modern Beijing. The beautifully manicured approach road leads down to one of the former Gateways, the Wenchang Tower, the largest of the six gate forts.


Across the lake 582The purpose of the summer Palace was to keep the court cool in the summer and thus  it was spread around an artificial lake. This very coolness makes it a popular visitor site for the modern inhabitants of Beijing.



The Palace was set  round a large lake artificial lake known as the Kunming lake . the main entrance was by the East Gate, and the main palace was set around the northern shores,  centering on the Longevity Hill.








Longevity Hill 0584_2
The lake is artificial, being dug out by huge team of workers. The spoil was all piled to one side where it forms a hill called Longevity Hill, which is the hill seen in this photo. On one side a Buddhist temple has been erected.



Summer Palace Royal Hall 655The main hall in the palace is the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity. This is where the empress Cixi would conduct state affairs,  hidden behind a screen,  as she was only the mother of the Emperor, and it was the emperor who was meant to be giving the orders.



Benevolence Hall 652-4 reduced_edited-1Here we see a panoramic view of the Palace of  Benevolence and Longevity, showing the courtyard in the front, with one of the famous dragons, a bronze qilin, or unicorn, though in fact it had two horns.

(This is a stitched together photo, which does not quite work properly, but it gives a good impression of the relationship of the hall and the courtyard).


Summer Palace Long Corridor 622Along the side of the lake is an elaborate Long Corridor







Long corridor roof 0635

The glory of the Long Corridor is its roof, decorated with paintings throughout its whole length



Summer Palace behind Long Corridor 620On the other side of the walkway is a further canal to keep it cool. It is crossed by a number of elegant little bridges.




Summer Palace Longevity 0592










About half way along are the Halls where the Empress Cixi actually lived. This is known as the Hall of Jade Ripples, and it is where the actual emperor Guangxu (Cixi’s son) lived. After the failure of the Reform Movement in 1898 when Cixi successfully put down an attempt at Reform, (i.e. westernisation) which would have given her son a little more power, she had  walls built to prevent any exit from the hall, this making the emperor  a prisoner in his own palace.


Hall of Jade Ripples 592-594_edited-2

This panoramic photo stitched together from three different photographs gives a good idea of the layout of the Hall


Cloud dispelling archway 0625_edited-1

Adjacent  to these halls is this archway, which is given different names in different guidebooks. but appears to be the Paiyun archway, or the Cloud Dispelling Gate. It is rather jolly, but I suspect it is essentially rather modern.


Longevity Hill 632Halfway along is the largest building on the site, a Buddhist temple known as the Fragrance of the Buddha.









Fragrance of the Buddha 633Here is a sideways view of the temple










Summer Palace Unknown Hall 0640One of the halls near the entrance, adorned by a girl  with very long legs and  very short shorts.



Kiosk by lake 0586_recomposed2And finally here is one of the kiosks by the lake, with visitors doing their best to keep cool in a Peking heatwave.




There are other parts of the Sumer Palace we did not see – the Stone boat, the Opera hose and the long bridge; but this gives a very good idea of how the emperors actually lived.


 On to:

The Geat Wall


We have now seen how the late Empire worked, by  looking at the capital of the late empire, Beijing.  But the early capital lay 600 miles to the south west, at Xian. So on to Xian, or Chang’An as it was known in earlier times, to take a look at the capital during the Han and Tang dynasties.

16th August 2014