The history of Old Summer Palace

history of old summer palace

The Old Summer Palace, also known as the Yuanming Yuan, was a complex of palaces, gardens, and temples located in the northwest suburbs of Beijing, China. It was constructed during the reign of Emperor Kangxi of the Qing dynasty in the early 18th century, and expanded and improved by his successors, Emperor Yongzheng and Emperor Qianlong.

The construction of the Old Summer Palace began in 1709, during the reign of Emperor Kangxi. The original design of the palace was inspired by the gardens and palaces of Suzhou, a city renowned for its classical Chinese gardens. The site was originally an imperial hunting ground, and Kangxi commissioned the construction of a small palace, known as the Garden of Clear Ripples, which served as his summer retreat.

Emperor Yongzheng, Kangxi’s successor, continued to expand the palace, adding more pavilions and gardens. He also built the Western Mansions, a set of European-style buildings, which housed his collection of Western books, clocks, and other scientific instruments.

Emperor Qianlong, who ruled from 1736 to 1796, was a great patron of the arts and oversaw the most extensive expansion of the Old Summer Palace. He added more than 140 buildings to the complex, including the famous Grand Waterworks, a series of interconnected lakes, fountains, and waterfalls that covered an area of more than 350 acres.

During the Second Opium War in 1860, the British and French forces invaded Beijing and looted the Old Summer Palace. The palace was extensively damaged, and many of its treasures were taken to Europe. The complex was later used as a training ground for the Imperial Army, and during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900, it was once again looted and burned by foreign troops.

After the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911, the site was left in ruins and became a public park. During the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s, the site was once again damaged, as many of the remaining structures were destroyed by Red Guards.

Today, the Old Summer Palace is a popular tourist attraction, although most of the original buildings and gardens have not been restored. The site serves as a reminder of the grandeur of the Qing dynasty, and of the destruction wrought by foreign invasion and internal conflict.

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