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Old Summer Palace (Yuan Ming Yuan)

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The Old Summer Palace, known in Chinese as Yuanming Yuan,and originally called the Imperial Gardens?It was a complex of palaces and gardens in present-day Haidian District,Beijing.Constructed throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries, the Old Summer Palace was the main imperial residence of Qianlong Emperor of the Qing dynasty and his successors, and where they handled state affairs; the Forbidden City was used for formal ceremonies. Widely conceived as the pinnacle work of Chinese imperial garden and palace design, the Old Summer Palace was an architectural wonder, known for its extensive collection of garden, its building architecture and numerous art and historical treasures. It was reputed as the "Garden of Gardens"in its heyday.In 1861 Victor Hugo compared the Summer Palace with the Parthenon, acclaiming it as “the thousand and one dreams of the thousand and one nights” built by “architects who are poets”.


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The Old Summer Palace initially built in 1707 as a royal bestowal from the Kangxi Emperor to his fourth son Yinzhen, who later became the Yongzheng Emperor. The Old Summer Palace was continuously under expansion in the years after Yongzheng ascended to the throne.While the Chinese emperors took the Old Summer Palace as their second home and office, spending even longer there than in the Forbidden City, architects over the years absorbed advances of garden design, bringing into being an expo of nearly all the existing garden art of ancient China and an unprecedented blending of oriental and western art.

In 1860, during the Second Opium War, the joint British-French army destoryed the Old Summer Palace.The attack was followed by a fire ordered by the British High Commissioner to China, Eighth Earl of Elgin, in the aim to destroy the palace completely. It is said that the fire burnt for three days and nights until ashes took over the glories. The fire didn’t quite destroy everything but the Old Summer Palace continued to suffer from lootings by bandits who took advantage of the Eight-Nation Alliance’s invasion in Beijing, mismanagement of the governments in the next few decades, as well as the Cultural Revolution, which little by little led to the doom of the palace.

After the Cultural Revolution ended,the government set up a Yuanmingyuan administration.It took years to reclaim the palace from nature and restore the scattered rocks back to where they used to belong. The ruins we see today at the famous Dashuifa site were kept as they were as "the classroom that the invaders left for the Chinese people".

What to see in Old Summer Palace
This view is not unjustified if one goes to the Old Summer Palace expecting to be entertained or intellectually stirred. Yes, there is history to be had, but what remains of the luxurious palace is mostly unmowed grass.The palace and its gardens date back to the 12th century, having gone through numerous stages of development.

The park is divided up into three sections: Yuanmingyuan, Wanchunyuan, and Changchunyuan.Each section has its own lake and maze of waterways.

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Xiyang Lou (Ruins of the European Style Palace) is located in the Changchunyuan section, and visitors should not miss it. This seven hectare area costs an additional 15 yuan to enter, but is well worth it.It was designed by an Italian court painter and a French engineer, the palaces here included a number of ornate fountains.


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Wanhua Zhen (10,000 Flower Maze), the walkthrough maze and central pavilion have been reconstructed.It was a place for emperor and his concubines to have fun.Wanhua Zhen is a classic example for the intergration of eastern and western design.

To the west of Yuanmingyuan is the least frequented section of the park, which only opened in 2008. This massive new area is the perfect place for those looking for a little peace and quiet.Ruins are scattered throughout, with signage explaining which empress fancied staying there, or how emperors would feed the fish at such and such a fountain.  

Address: 28 Yuanmingyuan Lu, Haidian District, north of Peking University.
Opening hours: 7:00 - 19:00
Admission Fee: 10 yuan; extra 15 yuan for the palace ruins.
How to get to Old Summer Palace
Take Bus: No. 320, 628, 697, 801, ?6, 319, 311, 432, 438, 498, 664, 690, 696, 826, arrive at Yuanmingyuan Qichunyuan; 664, ?4, 982, 365, 432, 656, 681, 717, 743, 814, 963, arrive at Yuanmingyuan Changchunyuan East gate.
Transportation within the garden: free for using wheelchair (deposit is 500 Yuan); 5 Yuan for a storage battery car.

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