10km (6 miles) northwest of Beijing City, the Summer
Palace is one of China's largest and best preserved imperial gardens.
Originally, the palace was a summer residence where the imperials
would go to escape from the stifling heat of the Forbidden City
and was only open to the public in 1924. Most of the park is taken
up by the beautiful Kunming Lake where visitors can boat or swim
in the summer and ice-skate in the winter.
This immense park is a classic example of Qing
architecture and was considerably enlarged and embellished by emperor
Qianlong in the 18th century. But of the imperial family, it is
empress dowager Cixi who is most associated with the Summer Palace.
She was extremely fond of the Summer Palace and went to great lengths
to improve it - in 1888 at the height of political instability,
she used all the money that was supposedly reserved for construction
of the navy to improve the palace.
Places of interest in the garden include but are certainly not limited to - the Long Corridor which is over 700 meters (2,300ft) long and is decorated with mythical scenes, the Marble Boat that is permanently anchored by the lakeshore, the Pavilion of Buddha’s Fragrance on top of Longevity Hill, the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity where emperors handled state affairs and received envoys, the Pavilion of Precious Clouds with elaborate bronzes and the Temple of the Sea of Wisdom with magnificent views.