The Summer Palace in Beijing is a grand conundrum. It is an enormous private residence built for one family, in the capital city of the world’s most populous nation.
Various emperors and royal families have occupied the site since construction began on the palace in 1153, and each ruler added their own personal touches to the area. The result is a tourist attraction that is large and interesting enough to occupy an entire day of exploration.
The lake itself, Kunming Lake, occupies 2.2 square kilometres and dominates the palace. These days, of course, it is not reserved solely for the royal family and visitors can enjoy the lake and the grand historical buildings.
Locals gather at the palace for recreation, relaxation, eating, drinking, socialising and challenging each other to games of chance and intellect.
Chasing the sun
A palace named in honour of summer should rightly be bathed in sun, but the severity of the air pollution in modern day Beijing means that the sun is rarely spotted in all its glory. A constant haze hangs over the imperial palace and makes rare appearances to remind locals and visitors that the earth’s life source does in fact exist.
The photo below indicates the first glimpse of the sun in Beijing since the Ming dynasty.
The palace is said to be the best preserved imperial garden in the world and it certainly invites contemplation and a picnic. It is a dream location for photographers who could spend, days, weeks or months capturing its natural, architectural and historical beauty.
Closer inspection reveals amazingly intricate detail and craftsmanship on every edifice which is painstakingly preserved.
Boating is a great way to experience the lake. Being so vast, the lake takes a long time to circumvent on foot, so numerous waterborne craft are available. Boat tours in elaborate boats with dragon motif are available, and tourists can hire small pedal-powered craft to carry them from shore to shore. Be advised that the lake is quite large, and if the wind picks up it can be hard work to get back to your starting point.
The famous marble boat is not going to set sail anytime soon.
A visit to the Summer Palace is a journey through history. Many rulers and their families have taken ownership of the site, including Kublai Khan, and their influence on the palace is documented in the archival displays found throughout the palace.
Somewhat ironically, the Summer Palace looks spectacular in winter, when the lake and the buildings are blanketed in snow and locals take to the lake with ice skates.
The Summer Palace, a fine day out in Beijing.