Chengde Summer Palace
Chengde Imperial Mountain Resort (literally "Mountain Resort for Avoiding the Heat"), situated north of the city of Chengde, was the favorite summer palace of several Qing (CE 1644-1911) Dynasty emperors, who spent the hottest months of each summer here, due to the palace area's temperate summertime climate. The palace is a relatively recent creation, having been built during the 18th century. It was constructed over a number of years - in fact, its construction stretched across almost the entirety of the 18th century, from 1703 to 1792.
The long construction period, which spanned the reigns of three Qing Dynasty emperors - Emperors Kangxi, Yongzheng, and Qianlong - is testimony perhaps to the relaxed attitude of the emperors while residing at their new imperial mountain resort in Chengde. In any case, the pace of construction of the Imperial palace buildings at Chengde was decidedly leisurely, for whatever reason. Two of the Qing Dynasty emperors who spent their summers here, Emperors Kangxi and Qianlong, spent almost half of each year at the imperial palace in Chengde.
The palace complex is vast, covering an area of some 5½ square kilometers (in contrast, the Forbidden City covers only about ¾ square kilometer, while the Old Summer Palace near Beijing covered about 3½ square kilometers), which perhaps also helps to explain why it took so long to finish the summer palace complex in Chengde. Chengde Imperial Mountain Resort comprises the emperor's residential buildings - including reception and entertainment halls - and the palace's royal gardens, as well as a number of magnificent temples. Since the emperors spent much of the year at this palace, it was also designed for business as well as for pleasure; the emperor received his ministers and advisors and discussed matters of state here, as well as receiving foreign dignitaries and other notable guests. In fact, parts of the palace were deliberately designed to resemble similar structures inside the Forbidden City.
As with so many other Chinese garden parks, the royal gardens at Chengde Imperial Mountain Resort include reduced-format replicas of famous garden features elsewhere throughout China. There are 72 scenic sites within the palace grounds at Chengde, each of which was personally named by one of the Qing Dynasty emperors. Many of these scenic sites are, as indicated, replicas of other scenic sites in garden parks elsewhere in China, especially the garden parks of South China. The gardens are divided into three overarching theme areas: a Lake District, a Plains District, and a Mountain District. The Lake District comprises a number of small fishing villages that surround the area's lakes, while the Plains District is a replica of a typical Mongolian grasslands. The Mountain District is characterized by dense forests. Within the Lake and Mountain districts are temples, pagodas and pavilions that are interspersed in a manner that harmonizes with the surrounding topography, which, again, is a notion imported from the typical garden parks of South China, cradle of China's Han Chinese culture.
The summer palace at Chengde, given that it functioned much like the Forbidden City - which was, as its name implies, off limits to ordinary Chinese people - was constructed such that most of its temples were deliberately placed outside the palace walls, thereby making the temples accessible to the public at large. The Eight Outer Temples are thus placed beyond the palace walls, each taking its architectural inspiration from an ethnic minority such as the Mongolian, Tibetan and Ugyur minorities.
Today, Chengde Imperial Mountain Resort is of course reconstructed to serve as a tourist site which at the same times serves as a window on the life and times of the Qing Dynasty emperors, whose power and opulence grew hand in hand with the growth in material wealth of the country (there are, for example, over 20,000 items from the imperial court on display here), which expanded considerably during this important period, and which would prove to be the final chapter in China's imperial era.