Yuanmingyuan, originally called the Imperial Gardens, was a large complex of palaces and gardens located northwest of Beijing and east of the Summer Palace. Built in the late 17th century, it was completely destroyed by fire in 1860 by British and French troops during the Second Opium War (1856-60). The emperors of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) used Yuanmingyuan as the central site for handling government affairs and used the Forbidden City mainly for formal ceremonies.
For over 150 years, the gardens underwent expansion increasing the number of scenic spots in the garden and mixing traditional Chinese landscaping with Western influences. It was no wonder that it was often called “garden of gardens” or the “Versailles of the East” in Europe during that era. Today the structures lie mostly in ruins, but the gardens remain largely intact, allowing visitors to take a walk through the maze or just enjoy the scenic landscapes.