The Marble Boat is an impressive pavilion at the Summer Palace in Beijing. Originally,built in 1755 for the Qianlong Emperor in a traditional Chinese design, with a base of large stone blocks to support the structure. This was destroyed by Anglo-French forces in 1860. The Empress Dowager Cixi had the Marble Boat rebuilt in 1893 as a two-story structure with some new design elements of European architecture. The Marble Boat is 36 metres in length and is near the western end of the Long Corridor at the Summer Palace.
It was one of the many extravaganzas of Empress Dowager Cixi. It is believed the Empress Dowager Cixi, had funds earmarked for the establishment of a modern Chinese Navy diverted to her, for the construction of the Marble Boat and other structures within the Summer Palace.
The two tier structure on top of the Marble Boat is in fact made out of wood, but it is painted to imitate Marble, and is a very good imitation. The hull is carved from marble and supported on a base of large stone blocks. The Marble Boat has beautiful stained glass windows (if you enlarge the photo and ‘zoom in’ on the windows you will see just how beautiful the design is). The floor is paved with decorative enameled tiles. It has a large mirror on each deck to reflect the waters of the lake and give the impression that the Marble Boat is floating on the water. Here Empress Dowager Cixi would take tea, and admire the reflection of the water in the mirror. It is also believed that the Empress would watch the exercises of navel units on the lake, from the Marble Boat.
There are imitation paddle wheels made from marble on either side of the pavilion, that together with the two tier deck makes it look reminiscent of a Paddle Steamer. It has a very cleverly designed drainage system which channels rainwater through four hollow pillars on the pavilion, before it gushes out dramatically through the mouths of four dragon heads, and into Kunming Lake.
Visually the Marble Boat at the Summer Palace in Beijing, is quite a beautiful structure. The Marble Boat is also known as ‘Shi Fang’ or the ‘Boat of Purity and Ease’.
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