The Old Summer Palace and the New Summer Palace are two of the most famous sightseeing spots in Beijing. Few know that not far from Beijing, Qing Dynasty emperors built another summer palace resort, which is almost as big as the two Beijing palaces combined. Ran Etya traveled to Chengde and captured the wonders of its magnificent Summer Palace Resort through his lens
Deciding to visit Chengde and to experience its enigmatic summer palace myself, I was up for a “short” train ride from Beijing to Chengde. in China, “a short train ride” is a relative term and can refer to a four hour train ride to the neighboring province of Hebei. In Hebei, more than 200 kilometers north east of Beijing, one may find the city of Chengde and its “secretive” summer palace that resides within it. The Summer Palace in Chengde is not a traditional touristic spot; a fact which makes it much more interesting and exciting to visit.
Watch: Chengde Summer Palace Resort
The Chinese name for Chengde’s Summer Palace Resort is 避暑山庄 (bì shǔ shān zhuāng), literally meaning ‘avoid-heat-mountain-village’. The summer palace definitely lives up to its reputation. It is a village located in a mountainous region and offers visitor-friendly temperatures during the summer. Escaping the scorching heat of Beijing, so it seems, was in the minds of Qing Dynasty emperors just as it is in the minds of modern Beijingers.
The Chengde Summer Palace Resort covers an area of more than five square kilometers, and it offers everything an emperor would need to relax. A palace (transformed into a museum), gardens, lakes, hills, forests, temples, pavilions, halls, pagodas, trails, terraces and a ten kilometer wall that helps keep the rest of the world out. All in all, there are 72 sight seeing spots and more than 100 pieces of architecture. These attractions make Chengde summer palace one of the top 3 spots for Chinese classical architecture, along with the Forbidden City in Beijing and the Confucius temple in Shandong Province. The gardens are meant to mimic the magnificent views of southern China, while the inspiration for the design of the summer palace can be traced to the Forbidden City in Beijing.
Although the Summer Palace Resort is the main attraction of Chengde, it is not the only one. Around the resort one will also find a chain of temples, known as the Eight Outer Temples (there are actually twelve temples in the area, but they are referred to as eight temples for administrative reasons). These temples were built in order to maintain good relationships with a variety of ethnic groups. Consequently, their architectural characteristics do not exclusively manifest the Han ethnicity (the biggest ethnic group in China), but also Mongolian, Tibetan and others as well.
One of the largest temples is Putuo Zongcheng, and it carries a striking yet not coincidental resemblance to the world renowned Potala Palace in Tibet. This temple is built on a mountain side, and while not nearly as high as the palace in Tibet, it manifests similar, traditional and colorful prayer flags, blowing in the wind in the clear blue sky.
Similar to many other cities in China, Chengde has a river running through the city center. The river, Wulie (武烈), has a name which implies of violence and excitation, but actually the river itself is extremely calm and clean. With magnificent hills surrounding it, the river is a great spot for playing reflection games.
The Chengde Summer Palace Resort is only a four hour train ride from Beijing and costs less than 100 RMB. The palace offers a great option for a quick weekend getaway from the capital and can be attractive for tourists and Beijingers alike. The summer palace resort in Chengde is not touristy and is strikingly beautiful. This fact makes the trip worth every bit of your efforts. After all, if it were worth the emperor’s efforts, it must worth yours!
All photos are courtesy of Ran Etya. Check out his photo blog here