Beihai Park is an imperial garden to the northwest of the Forbidden City in Beijing. First built in the 10th century, it is amongst the largest of Chinese gardens, and contains numerous historically important structures, palaces and temples. Since 1925, the place has been open to the public as a park. It is also connected at the south to the Shichahai.
The Park has an area of more than 69 hectares, with a lake that covers more than half of the entire Park. At the center of the Park is an island called Qiónghuá (琼华) Island with a highest point of 32 m. In the north of the park there is a large pool called the Taiye Pool connecting the two other pools, which are called the Middle Sea and the South Sea respectively. Therefore the Taiye Pool is also called the Beihai.
Beihai literally means “Northern Sea”. There are also corresponding “Central” and “Southern Seas” (Zhongnanhai). The complex of buildings around Zhongnanhai houses China’s paramount leaders.
The Beihai Park, as with many of Chinese imperial gardens, was built to imitate renowned scenic spots and architecture from various regions of China; the taihu lake, the elaborate pavilions and canals in Hangzhou and Yangzhou, the delicate garden structures in Suzhou and others all served as inspirations for the design of the numerous sites in this imperial garden. The structures and scenes in the Beihai Park are described as masterpieces of gardening technique that reflects the style and the superb architectural skill and richness of traditional Chinese garden art.
The Qionghua Islet which is densely distributed with halls, rockeries and pavilions stands at the centre of the park. The Yong’an Temple (Temple of Everlasting Peace) is the largest building complex which is composed of several halls, a bell tower and a drum tower. The temple used to be a place of worship for the emperors and their empresses. A white pagoda which stands out on the top of the islet is the symbol of the park. This Lamaist pagoda, 35.9 meters (117.8 feet ) high was built in 1651 where Buddhist lections, alms bowl and sarira remains of the Buddha’s body are laid. West of the temple are the halls and pavilions where emperors of the Qing Dynasty had a rest, discussed official business or amused themselves. In the north of the islet, there is a two-storey corridor that offers an extensive view.
In the southeast of the park, the Circular City is surrounded by a wall and is in fact an exquisite garden. The Chengguang Hall with yellow glazed tiles and green glazed eaves is quite dignified. Emperors of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) watched firework displays on it. Since the Qing Dynasty, it has been converted into a Buddhist chapel. A statue of Buddha that is carved out of a whole piece of white jade is enshrined in the main hall. In front of the Chengguang Hall, there is pavilion with a huge wine vessel laid out. The urn is engraved with a dragon in cloud and a sea horse on waves which was once used to store the wine by Kublai Khan, the first and brave emperor of the Yuan Dynasty. Both the pine and cypress tree are around 700~800 years old, so it is worth taking a closer look.
On the northern bank area, the Five-Dragon Pavilions and the Nine-Dragon Wall are must-sees for visitors. The Five-Dragon Pavilions are said to be the place where the emperors went fishing and enjoyed the bright moon. The five pavilions are connected by a sigmate bridge, which resembles a swimming dragon when seen from distance. The Colored Glazed Pavilion is a religious building and quite a dazzling attraction. It has a bright yellow roof and 1,376 small statues of Buddha made of colored glaze are engraved on the outside wall. The Nine-Dragon Wall which was built in 1756 is the most delicate of China’s three surviving nine-dragon walls. The wall, about 27 meters (89 feet) long is inlaid with colored glaze and has nine vivid dragons that play with pearls on either side.