The largest and best preserved of imperial Chinese gardens is about half an hour by bus northwest of Beijing city center. Known as the Summer Palace, meaning Garden of Harmonious Unity, the palace served the court of Chinas last dynasty, the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911). It was built in 1153 and served as a imperial palace in the Jin Dynasty (1115 – 1234). In the Qing Dynasty (1750) the palace was expanded and known as Qing Yi Garden (Clear Ripples). The palace was burned down by the British-French Allied Forces in 1860. In 1888 it was rebuilt by Empress Dowager Ci Xi with five million liang of silver from the navy funds, and renamed Yi He Garden (Garden of Harmonious Unity), also known as the Summer Palace.
The Summer Palace consists of the longevity Mountain, and the Kunming Lake which covers three fourths of the entire palace. Around the lake are 3,000 halls, temples, gardens and rooms. The palace is now turned into a public garden. Main attraction spots are the Hall of Benevolence and Longevity, the Long Corridor, the Pavilion of Precious Clouds, the Buddhist Temple of the Sea of Wisdom, the Xie Qu Garden (Garden of Harmonious Delight) and the 17-arch Bridge.
Construction of the palace is a combination of nature and man-made structures. Though built by men, all the buildings are harmoniously integrated into the natural scenery and the palace looks as if it was made by Heaven.