Compared with private gardens, royal gardens have the following characteristics:
1. They are very big, taking real mountains and real waters as the main factors for constructing gardens. Therefore, they pay greater attention to site selection, and their technique of building the garden is close to a realistic painting.
2. Royal gardens have a wider scope of scenic area, with more scenic spots and richer landscape.
3. The content of function and scale of activity are much richer and grander than private gardens. Almost all of them have palaces attached to them, located at the main entrances to the garden and used for holding court. There are also residential halls within the garden.
4. They stress a beautiful and imposing style to play up the royal atmosphere. Their appearance is quite solemn, different from the light and beautiful style of areas south of theYangtze River.
The extant royal gardens are in the vicinity ofBeijing. TheSummerPalaceis one of the most famous ones.
The Summer Palace in northwestBeijingwas built in the 15th year (1750) of Qing Emperor Gaozong. It was twice destroyed by the Anglo-French Allied Forces and the Eight-Power Allied Forces in the 19th and the turn of the 20th century, but was rebuilt and remains well preserved.
TheSummerPalaceis 15 kilometers northeast of the capital city and has an area of 293 hectares. It is composed mainly of the Wanshou Hill (the Longevity Hill) andKunmingLake. The Longevity Hill, 60 meters high, is located horizontally on the north, while the triangularKunmingLake, located in the south, is wide in the north and narrow in the south, with the famous 17-Arch Bridge spanning over it.
The whole garden is divided into four major scenic areas: the palatial district, the front hill and front lake district, theWest Lake districtand the back hill, and back lake district.
After bypassing the main hall, the Renshou Dian (the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity) in the palatial district, and following a zigzag, covered small path to enter the front hill and front lake district, one finds a sudden change in atmosphere. One sees a calm lake floating in the front, leading to a distant hill. With a very broad field of vision, the pagoda shadow on distant Yuquan (Jade Spring) Hill is introduced into the garden. A row of arbor trees near the bank plays the role of "tou jing" (showing up the landscape), deepening the sense of the space of the garden. This technique of preceding rise with fall has also been seen in private gardens.
The form of Longevity Hill lacks change, but Foxiang Ge (TowerofBuddhist Incense), a tall structure at the foot of the south of the Longevity Hill, together with the Liuli Ge (glazed tower) on the north of Foxiang Ge, breaks the massif outline. The high-platform base under the tower lies not at the hilltop, but instead at the hill center on the southern slope. It emphasizes its close relationship withKunmingLake, but more importantly it demonstrates its amiable relationship with the hill. Towers, wide and thick in size, are the wide-ranging composition center of the whole garden. Between the foot of the hill under the tower and the bank of the lake is the 700-meter-long corridor stretching from east to west, the longest in the world that controls the numerous small structures at the foot of the hill. In the water at the western end of the long corridor is a Marble Boat in Baroque stone architectural style.
The front hill and front lake area of theSummerPalaceare open, grand and broad in character, with real hills and real rivers, a vast arena, large boundary, beautiful color and rich style.
The northern foot of Longevity Hill is the back hill and back lake scenic area. The back lake is actually a string of small lakes linked by a winding river course. Deep and secluded valleys are shaded by thick branches and leaves, giving it a deep and secluded character. In the middle section of the back lake, on both banks of the lake, stores are built imitating the riverside streets ofSuzhou, giving it the flavor of towns south of theYangtze River.