The Summer Palace is located on the western edge of Beijing, between the fourth and fifth ring roads, close to the western hills, 12km from central Beijing. It was used as a summer residence by China's imperial rulers - as a retreat from the main imperial palace now known as the Palace Museum (or 'Forbidden City') - a pleasureground in the countryside, yet near to the city.The Summer Palace is virtually a museum of traditional Chinese gardening that uses rocks, plants, pavilions, ponds, cobble paths and other garden styles to create a poetic effect between different scenes. When you stroll around the Summer Palace, you will constantly find the area changing.The gardens that became the Summer Palace date from the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234).
Later, the Mongol Emperor Kublai Khan (Yuan Dynasty, 1279-1368), who wanted to improve Beijing's water supply, ordered the construction of canals to transport water from the Western Hills to the Summer Palace. He also enlarged the lake (now called KunMing Lake) to act as a reservoir.
In 1750, Emperor QianLong (1736-1796) of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) added substantially to the gardens of the Summer Palace. His appointed designers reproduced the styles of various palaces and gardens from around China. KunMing Lake was extended to imitate the West Lake in HangZhou . The Summer Palace is sometimes referred to as the 'New Summer Palace'. The original primary Summer Palace (YuanMingYuan, or 'Old Summer Palace') was demolished in 1860 by invading Anglo-French forces. Then, shortly after, the eight allied powers invaded in 1900 during the Boxer Rebellion to plunder and destroy the newly reconstructed New Summer Palace.Only when the fugitive CiXi returned to Beijing in 1903, did full-scale restoration begin. In this way, the Summer Palaces - old and new - are also associated in popular culture with the destructive interference of foreign powers. Today's Summer Palace is more or less the same as the palace rebuilt from 1903.
After the success of the 1911 Revolution, the Summer Palace was opened to the public. Then, after the last Qing Emperor PuYi was thrown out of the Palaces in 1924, the Summer Palace was turned into a park. The Summer Palace has become a popular and relaxing destination for both domestic and international tourists.
The Summer Palace was designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1990.The halls, pavilions, bridges and temples, Kunming Lake and Longevity Hill, all blend together harmoniously in spite of their
individual styles. Ingeniously conceived and elaborately designed, the Summer Palace, featuring the garden styles of both northern and southern China, is justifiably known as the 'garden of gardens'.
Indeed, the Summer Palace represents a quintessentially Chinese ideal of harmony between man and nature.