Chengde is a city located barely over 200 kilometers away from Beijing that concentrates around it an incomparable number of constructions from the Qing dynasty. It is possibly the most monumental city of northern China after Beijing. This is due to the fact that as of 1703, when emperor Kangxi had the famous Summer Villa built in its surroundings, it became the chosen place by a large number of emperors to get away from Beijing’s stifling summer heat.
Chengde, known as Jehol before 1949, is located on the north of the Great Wall. It used to be a small village located in the middle of the Manchu territory. Surrounded by dense forests and smooth hills, it had all the required elements to make the well educated emperor Kangxi, who rightly feared that his Manchu people’s culture could well end up blending into the rest of endless Chinese cultures, choose it to establish his summer palace.
In the days that Kangxi chose Chengde to spend his summers, it was well known for its abundance of game, especially deer, and the nomad Manchurian’s who roamed around. It soon became a place of rest and a kind of spiritual retreat, where the emperors kept close to sources where the ancestral Manchurian culture still remained.
But his building activity went changing this idyllic scenery, which they wished to preserve. Around the Summer Palace, which was emperor Kangxi’s residence, a number of temples for the different beliefs and religions were built in honor of dignitaries from allied countries and vassals who visited him. And this is how he had eleven temples built which are known as the Outer Temples, as they are located on the skirts of the hill which surrounds the Summer Villa.
There are temples in honor of the Tibetans, the Kalmucans, the Kazakans and the Oiratans. Every one of them have their own shape and features. Chengde’s Outer Temples are a small museum of Qing dynasty’s religious ideas and tendencies as it is a mix between the established religions and beliefs from remote peoples.
At present, the city of Chengde still has a reasonable size taking into consideration that an important part of the city’s surface is covered by its historical monuments. As the most interesting locations are relatively near one to another it is a perfect chance to take a quiet walk and enjoy the city.