The Summer Palace started out life as the Garden of Clear Ripples in 1750 (Reign Year 15 of Emperor Qianlong). Artisans reproduced the garden architecture styles of various palaces in China. Kunming Lake was created by extending an existing body of water to imitate the West Lake in Hangzhou. The palace complex suffered two major attacks--during the Anglo-French allied invasion of 1860 (with the Old Summer Palace also ransacked at the same time), and during the Boxer Rebellion, in an attack by the eight allied powers in 1900. The garden survived and was rebuilt in 1886 and 1902. In 1888, it was given the current name, Yihe Yuan. It served as a summer resort for Empress Dowager Cixi, who diverted 30 million taels of silver, said to be originally designated for the Chinese navy (Beiyang Fleet), into the reconstruction and enlargement of the Summer Palace.
During the summer months Beijing can get very hot and can also be very dry. Due to this the Summer Palace is a great place to relax and get away from the hustle and bustle of the city - its is also only a subway stop away! You can also get the boat from Beijing Zoo all the way to the Summer Palace. As I walked down this corridor you could see many couples dancing away to an iPod in that far shelter - it was pretty cool to see.