Home > Classical Imperial Gardens Tour in Haidian District

Classical Imperial Gardens Tour in Haidian District

2016-08-29 13:28:35Share:

  The most important of Haidian district’s tourist attractions are its imperial gardens. They represent imperial culture, a supreme synthesis of a natural, manmade and historic environment. The imperial gardens are not only a collection of hills and gardens, but also an integrated whole. Urbanization has separated today’s imperial gardens with only a few sites retaining traces of the old days. The Summer Palace on Longevity Hill, Fragrant Hills, the old Summer Palace Park are open to visitors. The site of Changchun Garden is now a new campus and dormitory for Peking University where the brick gates to Enyou and Enmu temples are preserved.


  Qing Dynasty contemplation at Summer Palace



  Among those still independent imperial gardens, the Summer Palace is the most worth visiting.


  Enter the Summer Palace through New Palace Gate and see a bronze ox crouching on the bank. The back of the bull has an inscription in which Emperor Qianlong writes that it guards rivers and ferries. Even though this bronze bull was partially damaged in the last few hundred years, it is fortunately still quite well preserved.


  It is said that the eight allied powers sent soldiers to take the bull after hearing it was made of gold. But it turned out to be bronze. In fact in ancient China the words for “gold” and “bronze” were the same, something outsiders didn’t know.



  South of the ox is the Spacious Pavilion, the largest scenic viewing pavilion, also known as Bafang Pavilion. Inside this pavilion are eight boards in four directions inscribed with paragraphs from The Carving of Dragons by Han Dynasty (BC 202-220) poet Liu Xie. Moving on, see the Seventeen Arch Bridge connecting the pavilion and South Lake Island. Five-hundred and forty-four stone lions guard the stately imperial bridge.


  Turn north and walk up the east bank past Wenchang Tower, Understanding Spring Pavilion, Yulan, Yiyun and Leshou halls. Out of Leshou Hall is a corridor


  courtyard toward Gate for Greeting the Moon. Pass through this and enter the Long Corridor, 728 meters long with crossbeams dividing it into 273 sections and the four – Liujia, Jilan, Qiushui and Qingyao – pavilions.


  Left of the corridor is the vast Kunming Lake and on the right is the mysterious Longevity Hill, partially covered by trees.



  Exit the corridor through the Gate of Dispelling Clouds to enter the Hall of Dispelling Clouds and Tower of the Fragrance of Buddha scenic area. On top of Longevity Hill, the view suddenly opens up, overlooking South Lake Island, Seventeen Arch Bridge, the glistening lake and willow trees on the west bank. After cresting the peak at the Temple of the Sea of Wisdom, descend the back of the hill and admire the terraced architecture.


  At the foot is Suzhou Street, a shopping street in the style of a South China water town. In the Qing Dynasty there were all types of shops along the street with eunuchs and maids dressed as vendors. The shops opened for business only when emperors came to visit. Rebuilt in 1986, the street today is busy selling to the general public. The style of architecture along the river echoes the view of Longevity Hill.


  On top of Longevity Hill, the view suddenly opens up, overlooking South Lake Island, Seventeen Arch Bridge, the glistening lake and willow trees on the west bank. After cresting the peak at the Temple of the Sea of Wisdom, descend the back of the hill and admire the terraced architecture.




  Address: 19, Xinjian Gongmen Lu, Haidian district, Beijing


  Telephone: 8610-6288 1144


  Opening time: 6:30am-6pm, peak season; 7am-5pm, off season


  Admission: 30 yuan/person in peak season, 60 yuan/ all-inclusive ticket; 20 yuan/ person off season, 50 yuan/ all-inclusive ticket.


  Revisiting relics at old Summer Palace


  Quite the opposite to the well-preserved new Summer Palace, most of the architecture at the old Summer Palace is ruined. Only partial reconstruction has been attempted at Fuhai and Yichun gardens. Today people who visit the old Summer Palace Park, known in Chinese as Yuanmingyuan (the Gardens of Perfect Brightness), usually begin by paying their respects at the Dashuifa waterworks in the Western mansions. In summer, the lotus pond glistens in Fuhai Lake where the greenery brings vitality to the old garden.


  Entering the east gate is to encounter the ruins left from the ransacked Western mansions. The fenced-off ruins sit in silence, their imperfect beauty receiving attention and respect from every visitor.



  Past a few damaged stones is the Water Clock Fountain, home to some recently returned bronze heads. According to historic documents, the fountain that used to be here was designed and built by western craftsmen to please the emperor. Designers combined China’s traditional dozen zodiac animals with western fountains and created a clock. The 12 zodiac animal heads were the fountain faucets and took turns to release water based on 12 two-hour periods. At noon, all 12 bronze animals sprayed water at the same time, a sight one can only imagine today.


  Ahead are the 10,000-Flower Maze (Huanghuazhen) and Harmonious Wonder (Xieqiqu). The maze centers on an exquisite stone pavilion. Walking into the labyrinth it is hard to find the correct path to the middle and many prefer to walk around. South of the building is a large begonia-shaped spray fountain inside which are fountains in the shape of a bronze sheep, bronze duck and stone fish. A small chrysanthemum-style spray fountain was built north of the building. The chrysanthemum is easier to recognize today than the begonia. Two damaged stone lions guard the main building, one with broken forelegs and the other lying in the mud.



  Out of the ruined Western mansions, walk to Yuanming, Changchun and Yichun gardens following the map directions and marvel at these wonders of Chinese imperial architecture. There is a model displaying what the old Summer Palace looked like at its peak and on one wall is a painting by Emperor Qianlong depicting the emperor plowing the field. The three gardens abound with water, but boast almost no architecture. Occasionally some foundations can be seen where the buildings were not completely razed. Along the lake are few visitors, an arcadia from urban noise.


  Today, many support the rebuilding of the old Summer Palace, hoping to remodel this essence of garden embodying Chinese people’s wisdom. Through modern information technology, a digital version of the old Summer Palace Park can be seen that displays all the architecture of a virtual Summer Palace.




  Address: 28 Qinghua Xilu,Haidian district, Beijing


  Telephone: 8610-6262 8501


  Opening time: 7am-6:30pm peak season, 7am-5:30pm off season


  Admission: 10 yuan/person, 25 yuan/concession


  Magnificent Jingyi Garden in Fragrant Hill


  The verdant 188-hectare Fragrant Hill Park rests on a steep mountainside, an imperial garden of hills and trees in west Beijing. The main hilltop, Xianglu Peak, also named Guijianchou (Ghost Fear Peak), is 575 meters high.



  The park was built in 1186 during the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234) and expanded during the Yuan and Ming dynasties. In 1745, Emperor Qianlong (1711-1799) ordered the addition of many new halls, pavilions and gardens and gave it a new name: Jingyi Palace (Garden of Tranquility and Pleasure). In 1860, British troops set the park ablaze, burning it to the ground and causing extensive damage. Another attack by the eight allied powers in 1900 destroyed much of the Fragrant Hill. From 1949, the Chinese government engaged in continuous restoration and developed Fragrant Hill into a public park in 1956. Cultural relics, pavilions, terraces and halls are scattered about the forested hills: The park boasts one of the Beijing’s famous “Eight Great Sights of Yanjing”: “The Sunny Western Hills after Snow”. The magnificent Biyun Temple (Temple of Azure Clouds) combines Ming and Qing Dynasties' architectural features including China’s only preserved painted wooden statues of the 500 arhats, covered in gold leaf. Other Fragrant Hill highlights include Dazhao Temple, a palace used to receive the sixth Panchen Lama, and Jianxin Pavilion Garden, an ancient and elegant South China-style courtyard.


  Biyun Temple was built in the second year of Yuan Dynasty Emperor Zhishun’s reign (1331), and was originally called Biyun Convent. During the Zhengde and Tianqi (1271-1368) and Qianlong (1736-1795) eras, the building was renovated and expanded to its current size. The main architecture of the 40,000-square-meter temple moves along an east-west axis and is divided into six courtyards. All the halls are built up the hill slope, rising terrace by terrace, creating a spectacular view. The temple was listed among the first group of key cultural relic protection units by Beijing government in 1957 and earned national preservation status in 2001.



  Shuangqing Villa is famous for two springs rising out of gaps in stone, prompting Jin Dynasty Emperor Zhangzong (1168-1208) to name it “Dream Feeling Spring” (Meng Gan Quan). In the 10th year of his reign (1745), Emperor Qianlong ordered the building of Songwu Yunzhuang (Pine Castle and Cloud Manor). He thought the spring water cool and sweet, naming it “Shuangqing” (Dual Clarity). In 1917 when floods hit Beijing and the surrounding area, Xiong Xiling ordered the building of Shuangqing Villa. Mao Zedong later lived and worked here. On 25 March 1949, the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party stationed itself on Fragrant Hill. Mao commanded the battle of Dujiang Battle from Shuangqing Villa as he prepared for the founding of New China. Here Mao wrote the poem “People’s Liberation Army Occupied Nanjing”, opening a new chapter in Chinese history.


  Some 96 percent of Fragrant Hill Park is trees. More than 5,800 are ancient, one quarter of Beijing’s total. As a natural oxygen bar to avoid the heat, the park is one of the places enjoying the highest amount of negative oxygen ions in Beijing, embodying the concept of “mountain range, famous springs, ancient trees and red leaves”.


  The red leaves of Fragrant Hill are famous home and abroad, one of the 1986 “Beijing New 16 Sights”. As a place to appreciate autumnal scenery, Fragrant Hill offers 14 species of tree from eight different families. Some 140,000 cover 93 hectares. The majority, more than 100,000 smoketrees, cover 80 hectares. The Fragrant Hill Red Leaf Festival attracts thousands of visitors from the middle of October to the beginning of November.


  Some 96 percent of Fragrant Hill Park is trees. More than 5,800 are ancient, one quarter of Beijing’s total. As a natural oxygen bar to avoid the heat, the park is one of the places enjoying the highest amount of negative oxygen ions in Beijing, embodying the concept of “mountain range, famous springs, ancient trees and red leaves”.




  Address: 40 Maimai Jie, Fragrant Hill, Haidian district, Beijing


  Telephone: 8610-6259 9886


  Opening time: 6am-6pm off season, 6am-6:30pm peak season


  Admission: 5 yuan/person off season, 10 yuan/person peak season


  Boating down ancient Yu River


  As the most important river system in Beijing, today’s Chang River dates back to the Jin Dynasty when it was known as the Zha River. During the reign of Qing Dynasty Emperor Qianlong, it had another name: the Yu River. After renovation, the Yu was used exclusively by the emperor to pray for blessings for his mother and imperial family members at the Temple of Longevity en route to the Summer Palace. Peach and willow trees dotted along the river blossom with green and red flowers every spring and summer. During the reign of Emperor Guangxu (1871-1908), this river course became the only means for Empress Dowager Cixi to go to the Summer Palace and avoid the summer heat. Both riverbanks prospered.



  It is still possible today to sample some of that journey along the Yu River which imperial family members used to take between their two political centers. Tourists can board the Chang Riverboat behind the Beijing Exhibition Center and travel to the Summer Palace, a nine-kilometer journey past Beijing Zoo, the aquarium, the Five Pagoda Temple (Wuta Temple), National Library, Purple Bamboo Park, the Temple of Longevity and Maizhongqiao. The Chang splits at Hongyou Bridge: one side showcasing graceful beauty, the other a grand magnificence.


  Boarding the boat behind Beijing Exhibition Center, the first view is of Beijing Zoo’s fierce animals and hawks on artificial hills on the left. Proceeding from the west gate of the zoo, the boat reaches the Five Pagoda Temple, a 600-year-old Ming Dynasty building. Through windows to the left of the boat, the inside of the pagoda is visible. Next the boat passes Baishi Qiao (White Marble Bridge). In the Ming and Qing dynasties, as this was the only route princes and ministers took, the bridge was constructed from marble, a material exclusive to royalty. Baishi Qiao is the only bridge made of white marble outside the imperial palaces and gardens. Today the bridge forms a vital link between Zhongguancun and the Summer Palace.



  Passing the National Library, the boat enters Purple Bamboo Park. In the old days when Emperor Qianlong passed here, he wrote that “the deep shade under the willow trees looks like a fairlyland”. Verdant grass covers both banks of the park today. Willow trees swing with the wind, just as in the old days. It is said some of these trees were planted by Emperor Qianlong himself. Tourists must change boats at Guangyuan Lock. As northwest Beijing is higher than southeast, the riverbank is 10 meters higher than the city wall of the Forbidden City. If Emperor Qianlong and Empress Dowager Cixi both had to change boats here, then so must we.


  After getting on a bigger boat, there’s a chance to see a unique view where the river broadens and splits at Hongyou Bridge. The left channel was once exclusively used by emperors. The boat then passes Ziyuwan Ferry where Empress Dowager Cixi often took a rest, and then Guangyuan Lock built by Guo Shoujing to protect the Yuan Dynasty capital.


  As the boat cruises out of the northwest gate of Purple Bamboo Park, Longevity Hill becomes visible. The boat goes on and reaches the Changhe Wan Ferry. In the Qing Dynasty, this was an area of rice paddy fields, twittering birds and trilling frogs. When Cixi saw the scene, she got off the boat to stop and appreciate the rural beauty. As the Kunyu River broadens, tourists can enjoy a great view standing on the bow of the boat. A moment later, the boat reaches the south gate of the Summer Palace.


  All along the way, the view alternates between two types of scenery: ancient and modern. Travelling by boat is like a kind of time travel, back to the days of an old and prosperous imperial capital.

The Imperial Gardens