The Summer Palace outside Beijing is not just a building, but a great park and lake complex ideal for an afternoon, or a whole day, out.
Just outside Beijing is what is known as the Summer Palace – Yiheyuan, in Chinese -, in fact a large complex of park and lake, with on one side of the lake the imperial retreat, a collection of wooden buildings built at the end of the 19th Century. Although the location has seen earlier palaces, the current building is mostly the initiative of the Empress Dowager Cixi, who brought the empire to the brink of collapse.
Much of the palace is built against a hill, with pavilions and corridors coming down to the lake side, where a huge marble boat – one of the follies of the Empress, constructed with money meant to support the navy – will never move an inch away from the jetty.
It is a fabulous complex at every season of the year; in winter the lake freezes solidly, providing space for ice skating and for sledges. Many of the Beijing residents will make the outing, on a Sunday afternoon.
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