Ruins not ruined!2015-12-18 10:13:26Share:
If you are planning to come to Beijing then the Summer Palace (颐和园) will probably end up on your itinerary. As one of the ‘must see attractions’ of Beijing, it attracts millions each year with its beautiful lake and tree-linedpathways. Though, there is a less visited and less well known garden that is equally important, which is the Old Summer Palace, Yuanmingyuan Imperial Garden (圆明园).
Yuanmingyuan is actually built in the same era as its more famous counterpart, the Summer Palace. Its moniker is attributed to the fact that it had previously been the more prominent location for China’s royalty to frequent during the hot summer months. The main reason it ceased to be so anymore was that it was burnt, looted and reduced to rubble during the second opium war in 1860.
In its prime it was known as the ‘Garden of Gardens’ (万园之园). It housed an extensive collection of art and showcased many different styles of architecture. The most impressive of which were the ‘Western Mansions’, commissioned by the Qianlong emperor in the 18th century. Huge European palaces, fountains and even a maze (which survived the plunder) were constructed to quench the mighty emperors’ thirst for the exotic.
Today the most iconic image of the old Summer Palace is of these western structures lying in ruin; for many Chinese acting as an ironic representation of the western countries 19th century imperial crimes. However you choose to view history though, to me the old Summer Palace is very special. It’s true there are fewer crowds than at other sites in the capital, but more than that it represents something rare in mainland Chinese tourism.
Put simply, it is what it is. There have been no extensive efforts made to restore its former glory and that gives it a special atmosphere. As you step through the ruins you are in a real monument to history. There are certain places in China that suffered from over restoration, as if what we expect to see has been downloaded for us from a virtual reality world. Whilst the architecture and art are long gone, the gardens still retain their natural beauty and coupled with the historical significance, the Old Summer Palace should not be missed!
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