Situated in western outskirts of Beijing, the Summer Palace is 10 km from the central city. It is China's leading classical garden which enjoys a worldwide reputation. The Summer Palace was opened to the public in 1924 and included in the UNESCO world heritage list in 1998. A whole day is needed to view it in detail.
The Summer Palace was first built in 1153 and served as an imperial palace for short stays away from the capital. Empress Dowager Ci Xi rebuilt it in 1888 with a large sum of money which had been appropriated to build a Chinese navy.
The two main elements of the garden are Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake. Kunming Lake,with an exquisite building in the middle, takes up three quarters of the garden's 290 hectares. The garden consists ofthree parts: the political activity area,the empress's living quarter and the scenic area which separately centers on the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity, the Hall of Jade Ripples and the Hall of Happiness and Longevity, and Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake. The groups of buildings, hills and lakes, together with the background of West Hills, give an ever changing scene.
The buildings on the southern slope of Longevity Hill are characteristic of the garden. Cloud-Dispelling Hall, the Pavilion of the Buddhist Incense and the Wisdom Sea on the axis line are flanked by the Wheel Hall, Wufang Pavilion and Baoyun Pavilion and are major attractions. The Pavilion of the Buddhist Incense is 41 meters high and stands on a 20-meter-high terrace. At the foot of Longevity Hill is the 728-meter-long passageway which links the three areas together. The passageway is famous for its paintings and at its western end is a 36-meter-long Marble Boat.
The bridges of the western causeway of Kunming Lake are replicas of the bridges of famous Su and Bai causeways on West Lake in Hangzhou. The marble Seventeen-Arch Bridge which spans the Eastern Causeway to South Lake Island has balusters topped by 540 carved lions in different poses.
Back Lake at the northern foot of Longevity Hill is natural and peaceful. On its bank is Suzhou Street, a replica of a commercial street in the old days. At the northeastern corner of the garden there is the Garden of Harmonious Interest which imitates the famous Jichang Garden in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province. Diminutive and elegant, it is known as a garden within a garden.
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