On the northwest corner of Beijing is the Summer Palace, or Yihe yuan (颐和园).
It is quite a contrast to the dense network of buildings and courtyards of Forbidden City, and is dominated by the “natural” elements of of Kunming Lake and Longevity Hill – “natural” is in quotes as the lake and hill are at least partly artificial. Along the hillside are a series of impressive buildings leading up to the Tower of Buddhist Incense. Other palaces and gardens ring the lake, with similar architectural and sculptural elements:
In its present incarnation it is more of a park than a palace, with locals and tourists boating on the lake, or having picnics in the gardens and pavilions along the side. However, the main attraction remains the buildings of Longevity Hill. At the base, one enters a court and the Cloud-Dispensing Hall, and can look upward towards the tower up the hill.
From there, one climbs a series of covered and exposed stairways, navigating a series of buildings on the hillside:
The courtyard of the Temple of Buddhist Virtue at the top of the stairs is relatively tight, and only offers extremely vertical views of the tower:
One does, however, get a specular view of the lakeside and southeast towards the city center of Beijing.
The Summer Palace has quite a history. It was destroyed during multiple invasions in the 19th Century and was rebuilt around 1900 in its current form.
Back in the city center is the Temple of Heaven.
[click to enlarge]
The most prominent building, the circular triple-gabled building depicted in the pictures above, is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. Harvests seems to have been a major focus when the temple functioned as a location for ceremonies performed by the emperor. However, the most important structure, from a ceremonial point of view, was the Alter of Heaven, a tiered circular mound at the southern end of the complex:
Unlike the more architecturally prominent buildings, which have gone through extensive maintenance and renovation, the mound seems to have gone to seed a bit, with lots of grass and weeds coming up the ground. For me, however, this actually makes for interesting photography, as I tend to like buildings that in a bit of disrepair.
I found more buildings in various states off to the side of the main axis of the complex, such as this dry moat with weeds growing:
This area of the complex was nearly empty, no tourists and very few locals, and walking around here among more quiet and less maintained buildings was quite comforting, especially after the intensity and the crowds of Beijing.