The Summer Palace (Yiheyuan) is an attraction that one should not miss to see on a visit to Beijing. This was where the Emperor Qianlong and his successors resided and governed. I had planned on spending the whole day in this park and I did. The park is about 743 acres. Accessing it on the subway system is fairly easy. From my hotel in the Dongchen District, I took subway Line 4 and stopped at Beigongmen (North Palace Gate) station. This is the second to the last station on Line 4. From this station, you walk about 800 meters to the ticket office and the entrance gate. Tickets to the park cost 30 Yuan but these do not allow you access to some of the attractions inside the park. What you need is a combination ticket which costs 60 Yuan and allows you access to the Suzhou Street and Danning Hall, Wenchang Hall, Dehe Garden and Tower of Buddhist Incense. There are so many attractions in this park that I cannot start to tell you about each one of them. I will just share a few of the places and then provide some photos.
My first stop was at Sida Buzhou (Four Great Regions). These are magnificent structures that were built during the reign of Emperor Qianlong (1736 – 1795). The style of the buildings is Tibetan.
The main structure in this section is the “Hall of the Budha Confirming His Doctrine.” In the hall are statues of the Buddha of Three Ages. There are also eighteen Arhats enshrined in this hall. Arhats are like saints, people who have attained perfection (nirvana). Because it is Beijing, you have to climb a very steep hill to get to this building.
On my way from this first hill, I stopped at the Hall for Listening to Orioles. This hall is currently a restaurant that serves imperial court cuisines. I did not attempt to get a meal there because I knew it would be way above my budget. Over a hundred world leaders have dined at this restaurant. Originally, the hall was built by Emperor Qianlong for his mother as a theatre to enable her watch operas.
Not far away from here also is the studio of Serene Beauty. Originally, it was the Hall of 500 Arhats. It is a walled garden with an octagonal shaped pond. There is a bridge in the middle with buildings which have been converted into stores for selling things. There are several of these halls and gardens around the park. Two other halls that had interesting names and caught my attention were the Hall of Cloudlike Brocade and the Hall of Finest Jade. The Hall of Cloudlike Brocade was built in 1886 as a lounge for dukes, princes and cabinet ministers when they visited the Summer Palace to celebrate the Empress birthdays. On the opposite side of it is the Hall of Finest Jade built for the same purpose in the same year. Together with these two halls is the Hall of Dispelling Clouds built in 1886 to celebrate the Empress Dowager Cixi’s birthdays. Some of the birthday presents she received are displayed in the hall but access to the hall is not granted. It is even hard to look through the glass windows because of the burglary proofs.
An important stop at the Summer Palace is the Wenchang Gallery. You need a combination ticket to get in or you have to buy a separate ticket to allow you access to this gallery. it is said to be the largest and most impressive gallery of its kind in any classical garden in China. It has six halls and contains thousands of artifacts that came from the different dynasties, covering 3600 years. One of my best artifact in the gallery was the automobile from the Qing Dynasty. What a difference with the cars we have today? They are Jade products, clocks, utensils, jewelry, etc. on display. The items are not precisely dated. They just tell you what dynasty they are from. I would have preferred a more precise dating as some of the dynasties were long.
You will find several other gardens and halls throughout the park. Some of these are he Hall of the Sea of Wisdom, Hall of Utmost Blessings, Hall of Joyul Longevity, Hall of Benevolence and Longevity, Hall of Jade Ripples, Garden of Virtue and Harmony, etc. I saw them all. I think the Chinese are the best in naming buildings! There is a long corridor, about 728 meters that is parallel to the Kumming lake. People walk through it, seat along the way to rest or watch other people. It was built around 1750 and the Empress Dowager Cixi took her daily walk on it after breakfast.
The last attraction at the Summer Palace I want to share something about is the Tower of Buddhist Incese. This was built during the reign of Emperor Qianlong. It was used for the worship of Buddha. The Empress Dowager Cixi visited it regularly to pray. You are not allowed photographs inside because it is considered a holy space. You can watch people go in and pray to the Buddha and leaving him plenty of money too. I was wondering who gets to keep that money since the Chinese Communist government professes atheism? Perhaps, it is one of those things where, ‘we hate religion but we love your money!’
By the time I finished going through the different attractions in the park, my feet were really sore. It took me more than four hours of continuous walking through the park. My Fitbit says I clocked 22,000 steps today. Walking in the park requires you to go up and down very steep hills. Some places are handicap accessible but most are not. It would be difficult to put a handicap rail up those high hills. A cable car around the park is a good idea.
Just a final note about this park! Most of what you see in the park is not original. Some of the buildings are as recent as the 1980s. Most of the buildings in the Summer Palace were destroyed and burnt down by Anglo-French expeditionary forces during the Second Opium War in 1860. Some of the structures were rebuilt after the war. It breaks my heart to know about the damage caused by the war. Historical places are continuously being destroyed around the world as a result of war. ISIS is busy destroying ancient monuments in the Middle East. Muslim extremists have destroyed world heritage sites in Timbuktu and other parts of Africa. Our own western bombs also sometimes end up blowing off historical sites. What war knows and does is destruction!