Old Summer Palace

Old Summer Palace

The Old Summer Palace, known in Chinese as Yuanming Yuan (圆明园; 圓明園; Yuánmíng Yuán; 'Gardens of Perfect Brightness'), and originally called the Imperial Gardens (御园; 御園; Yù Yuán), was a complex of palaces and gardens in present-day Haidian District, Beijing, China. It is 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) northwest of the walls of the former Imperial City section of Beijing. Constructed throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries, the Old Summer Palace was the main imperial residence of Qianlong Emperor of the Qing dynasty and his successors, and where they handled state affairs; the Forbidden City was used for formal ceremonies. Widely perceived as the pinnacle work of Chinese imperial garden and palace design, the Old Summer Palace was known for its extensive collection of gardens, its building architecture and numerous art and historical treasures. It was reputed as the "Garden of Gardens" (万园之园; 萬園之園; wàn yuán zhī yuán) in its heyday.

In 1860, during the Second Opium War, as the Anglo-French expedition force relentlessly approached Beijing, two British envoys, a journalist for The Times and a small escort of British and Indian troopers were sent to meet Prince Yi under a flag of truce to negotiate a Qing surrender. Meanwhile, the French and British troops reached the palace. As news emerged that the negotiation delegation had been imprisoned and tortured, resulting in 20 deaths, the British High Commissioner to China, Lord Elgin, retaliated by ordering the complete destruction of the palace, which was then carried out by British troops. The palace was so large – covering more than 800 acres – that it took 4,000 men 3 days of burning to destroy it. Many exquisite artworks – sculptures, porcelain, jade, silk robes, elaborate textiles, gold objects and more – were stolen and are now found in 47 museums around the world, according to UNESCO.

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