china edition
 

 

Old Summer Palace

The ruins of the Old Summer Palace (Yuanmingyuan) are a few hundred meter away from the existing Summer Palace, not far from the Beijing and Qinghua Universities. The northern entrance is guarded by 2 stone lions and the little paths lead to a field of ruins.

Unexpectedly, visitors will find the remains of pillars and frescos that are more likely to be associated with the European baroque style than with Chinese imperialism.

The palace and park were built under the Qing emperors in the 18th century. The grounds were at the time referred to as the "garden of perfect purity" and a classic example of Chinese landscape gardening. Emperor Yonzheng redesigned and extended the park, but it was Emperor Qianlong who brought it to European splendor.

Inspired by French and Italian palaces, Qianlong gave order for buildings to be built in the rococo style. Beautiful palaces akin to those in Europe were built between 1747-1759 under the supervision of the Jesuit Guiseppe Castiglione from Genoa, complete with European furniture and mazes in the garden.

Old Summer Palace

This grandeur was destroyed over 3 days by French and British troops during the Second Opium War (1860-1862). Angered by China's foreign policies, the allied forces punished the imperial court by ordering troops to pillage and set fire to the palaces. The Chinese part of the palace made from wood was completely destroyed and only a few ruins of the European buildings remain.

The grounds remain an oasis among the hustle and bustle of modern day Beijing. Visitors will enjoy the serenity and beauty of the Fu Hai Lake where in the summer, paddle and rowing boats can be hired. There is also a Garden History Exhibition Hall with drawings and models of the palace in its former glory as well as a synopsis of the history of the Old Summer Palace. The maze was also restored in concrete form by French architects and historians in the 1980s.