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The Summer Palace is the biggest and best-preserved royal garden in China, and is located approximately fifteen kilometres from Beijing. 

The history of the Summer Palace spans over eight hundred years.  Before the Summer Palace, the same location was used early in the Jin dynasty, for an imperial palace called Golden Hill Palace.  In 1750, Emperor Qian Long of the Qing dynasty constructed the Garden of Clear Ripples, using 4.48 million taels of silver on the spot of Golden Hill Palace.  He renamed the spot, Longevity Hill, in celebration of his motherís birthday.

Most of the palace and gardens were destroyed during the opium wars. In 1888, the Empress Dowager Cixi embezzled funds from the Imperial Navy and restored the garden.  The construction of this new garden took ten years, and after its completion, it was given the new name of Yiheyuan (Garden of Peace and Harmony).  In 1900, the eight powers plundered the garden once more, only this time; nearly all of the large temples and halls at the back of Longevity Hill were ruined, leaving only one to survive.  It was only when Cixi returned to Beijing as a fugitive in 1903 that restoration truly began again.

Consisting primarily of Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake, the Summer Palace of today spans 294 hectares, three quarters of which is water.  The garden can be thought of as having three zones: administration, residential and scenic.  The administration area is comprised primarily of the Halls of Benevolence and Longevity, and is where Cixi arranged her affairs of state and received officials.  The residential area is made up of the Hall of Jade Billows, the Garden of Virtue and Harmony, and the Hall of Joyful Longevity.  The Kunming Lake and Longevity Hill are what comprise the scenic area.

There are two entrances to the Summer Palace: the East Palace gate and the North Palace Gate.  It is the East Palace Gate that is used by the majority of visitors to the Summer Palace.

Each one of the man-made hills, halls, pavilions and temples, which include both Kunming Lake and Longevity Hill, combine pleasantly no matter their different styles.  The garden is comprised of many different features of gardens in both Northern and Southern China, giving the Summer Palace the reputation as being the soul of Chinese Gardens. 

Today, the Summer Palace is pretty much the same palace, after having been rebuilt in 1903.  The admission ticket to the garden is reasonable enough that most people can now afford it, so that this old imperial garden can become the perfect location for locals to retreat during the hot Beijing summers.


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