Many have heard of the Summer Palace, but what of Yuan Ming Yuan or the ‘Old Summer Palace’? In order to truly grasp the history of the Summer Palace, then take some time to travel to Beijing and have a sombre reflection of the once memorising formal Imperial Palace. The palace can be reached from exit B at Yuanmingyuan Station, subway Line 4 which means it is quite manageable to access the palace from whichever of the Beijing hotels you decide to stay in.

 

Before entering the palace grounds, expect to be met by a showcase of en tertainment. With performers encouraging you to join in, the atmosphere in the palace courtyard is rather thrilling. The apparatus which the performers use are slightly out of the norm, with diablo
-like contraptions making whirling noises and that projects an almighty bang as if gunpowder has exploded.

In the days of the Second Opium War, the Old Summer Palace was ransacked as retaliation by French and British troops so therefore today, the palace lies in ruins. Some parts of the grounds, have, nonetheless, been restored in the 1990s; such the Jianbiting in 1993, which in turn has made the place a rather attractive location to visit. Compared to the ‘new’ Summer Palace, the grounds have a more natural and raw appearance as opposed to the pristine gardens of its successor. Additionally, in contrast to the ‘new’ palace, the ‘old’ one has (from its remains) a European appearance. Indeed, the ruins can be likened to that of classical Greco-Roman architecture with marble-like white stones.

In its heyday, as indicated by the ruins, the palace would have looked incredible. For example, the largest building at the palace, The Haiyan Hall was adorned with bronze sculptures with symbolic animal heads representing the 12-year cycle of human births would spray water. Whilst the exterior of Haiyan Hall would also have been a radiant sight with towering fountains glistening in the summer heat. Water certainly played a major role in old palace and this is made clear when observing the strange-looking structure called the Haiyantang. At first glance, the Haiyantang appears like a upturned pyramid, however, its original purpose was to act as a 160 cubic meters tin reservoir.

Without doubt, just going for a walk around the palace’s lakes is pleasing in itself. Due to the palace being abandoned most of the grounds, bar the designated ruins area; feels like you are walking in the countryside. The lakes themselves are swamped in reeds and water lilies which subsequently enhances the timeless and ancient effect of the place. As a concluding thought, a traditional boat ride would be a premium choice to finish the day off in the palace grounds on any China travel itinerary to the city. If you’re lucky enough, you may even be able to spot some of the palace’s majestic black swans!

 

Jack Li
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