Yuanmingyuan or the Old Summer Palace as it is sometimes referred to was originally known as the Imperial Gardens. It was a complex full of palaces and gardens. It is located in Haidian District 8 kilometers (5.0 miles) northwest of the walls of the Imperial City. It is also very close to the west gate of Tsinghua University, north of Peking University, and east of the (new) Summer Palace. Travelling to the park is not a problem as the subway is conveniently located only one hundred yards from the park’s entrance.
It’s important when visiting the park to understand it’s history as it really affects how you take in the whole experience. It was built in the 18th and early 19th century as the place where the emperors of the Qing dynasty resided and handled government affairs. It was known for its extensive collection of gardens, its Chinese and Western architecture and also its many works of art.
Sadly in the 1860s, during the second Opium war, it was destroyed by western forces. Much of what you will see are relics of its former glory. For this reason the Old Summer Palace is often overlooked by tourists and it does not enjoy anything like the number of visits the New Summer Palace does. However this should not put you off. If you really want to appreciate an important chapter in China’s history then you really should visit. Apart from its mostly destroyed buildings it still has so much beauty.
One of the first things that strikes you is how vast it is; the area covers about 340 hectares. You are likely to need a whole day to see as much of this fascinating place as you can. There are actually three gardens in the park: Yuanmingyuan, Changchunyuan and Qichunyuan. People usually go to the Changchunyuan to visit the famous "Dashuifa". But all three gardens have their own charm and are all well worth a visit. They were laid out separately, yet in a way they complement each other harmoniously.
The peaks of the Western hills form a perfect setting, with countless springs feeding small canals winding their way through the valleys. Before their destruction there were white marble bridges spanning the water, some estimate as many as 200. Sadly there are now only a few left standing.
The palaces, halls and pavilions stood used to stand amidst emerald green woods. If you visit during the spring and summer seasons you will be rewarded with gardens full of petunias, violas and busy Lizzies and lakes graced with many beautiful water lilies. Before you leave be sure to visit the museum, inside you can see a model that shows how the park used to look. This rounds of a extremely enjoyable experience, one which you will reflect on for a long time and one which you will find yourself recommending to others.