Once reputed as “the Garden of Gardens” and “Versailles of the East”, Yuanming Yuan (圆明园—Yuánmíng Yuán) or the Old Summer Palace used to be known far and wide as the most splendid imperial garden of all times. Victor Hugo (1802-1885), author of French novels (Les Misérables and Notre-Dame de Paris), described the garden as: “In a corner of the world, it is one of the wonders of the world, a miracle called the Old Summer Palace.”
The Old Summer Palace was originally called the Imperial Park (御 园; 御 園; Yù Yuán). This is a complex of palaces and parks in the Haidian District, Beijing, China. Built throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries, the Old Summer Palace was the main imperial residence of the Emperor Qianlong of the Qing dynasty and his successor. Widely regarded as the work of the peak design of Chinese imperial gardens and palaces, the Old Summer Palace is known for its extensive collection of gardens, architectural buildings, and a variety of artistic and historical treasures.
However, just as any other historical relic, the Old Summer Palace has an immensely long record of past events—some of which resulted in the literal apparent scars on its remaining walls today.
It was during the Second Opium War in 1860, Yuanming Yuan got ambushed and destroyed by the British and French troops. The war had taken away not only its magnificence and glory but also its treasures—which were looted and are now displayed in museums all around the world. Behind all the events that happened to Yuanming Yuan, the grand garden still stood as the original Imperial Summer Palace, but the tragedy wasn’t only left Yuanming Yuan in ruins, it also left an open wound and a heart-wrenching scar in Chinese history.
Today, the reconstructed Old Summer Palace has become an open-for-public park and offering its majestic architectural ruins for visitors to see. Its three major gardens: the Garden of Perfect Brightness (圆明园; 圓明園; Yuánmíng Yuán), the Garden of Eternal Spring (长春园; 長春園; Chángchūn Yuán), the Garden of Elegant Spring (绮春园; 綺春園; Qǐchūn Yuán), are beautifully adorned with bridges, lakes and open spaces with oriental-styled pathways in between.
All in all, I must say—the Old Summer Palace really blew me away in a good way. Putting the secrets it hid behind its majestic beauty aside, its gorgeous scenery itself is enough to pull me in and make me want to stay for longer. It really is the kind of place where you can just leisurely stroll in, and basically, just destress yourself.
Now the spring’s on the move, taking away the last bits of cool breeze with it, you definitely have got to put Yuanming Yuan on the list of places you need to visit. Go and see for yourself the remains of the Old Summer Palace’s indestructible beauty.