Connecting the eastern shore of Kunming Lake and Nanhu Island in the west, the Seventeen-Arch Bridge was built during the reign of Emperor Qianlong (1711-1799).
There are some thirty bridges in the Summer Palace and this is the largest one, with a length of 150 meters (164 yards) and a width of 8 meters (8.75 yards). It is not only the sole passageway to Nanhu Island, but also an important attraction in the lake area.
The unique scenery is but one of the stunning landscapes in the Summer Palace. With the styles of Lugou Bridge (Marco Polo Bridge) in Beijing and Baodai Bridge in Suzhou, the Seventeen-Arch Bridge looks like a rainbow arching over the water. There are 544 distinctive lions on the columns of the white marble parapets, 59 lions more than those in the Lugou Bridge. On each end of the bridge is a carved bizarre beast which looks like kylin, an auspicious animal in Chinese legends. With the biggest arch in the midst of the bridge flanked by sixteen others, visitors can count nine arches in different sizes from the middle to each end of the bridge. Number nine was believed to be the biggest yang (anode) number, an auspicious number favored by the emperors. So the bridge has seventeen arches. Including the central arch, there are nine arches from either end of the bridge.
The east end of the bridge is connected with Kuoru Pavilion. and a Bronze Ox just stands off the bridge opposite the pavilion. Beside the pavilion and Bronze Ox are the ferryboat wharfs. The beauty of the bridge can be admired while walking along the East Causeway, and even the bank in front of the Long Gallery.
There is an interesting legend connecting to the beauty of this bridge. It goes like this. One day during the construction of the bridge, an old man in shabby clothes came to the busy building site and shouted “Who wants Longmen (Dragon Gate) Stone?” He got no reply as the others took him as a crazy man on seeing his poor appearance. The poor man left with the stone in great disappointment. He stayed under a big tree, and every day, he chiseled the stone as early as when cocks started to crow. One night, it rained heavily, the poor man had to shelter from the rain under the tree when another elderly man saw him and asked him to live at his home. After a year went by, the old man said goodbye to the kind master and left the stone to him as a reward in return.
At the same time, the project of the Seventeen-Arch Bridge was almost finished except for a proper stone to fit the gap in the middle of the bridge. Someone advised the project director to find the man who once sold Longmen Stone. The director found out where the old man once lived. Out of extreme happiness, he found the right stone and gave the master some money to move it away. To everyone’s excitement, the stone was exactly the right one to fit the gap. Suddenly someone realized, “The old man must be the incarnation of Luban (the earliest ancestor of carpenter) who came to help us to build the bridge!”
The beauty of the bridge varies throughout the four seasons, at dawn and dusk, and also from different points of view. You will get a best shot of the Longevity Hill while standing on the bridge. Lions sculptures with different postures and expressions are also perfect images favored by many photographers. The bridge set in willows and undulating waves in windy springs, making the bridge appear to sway like a pearl necklace. In addition, the hill side of Longevity Hill is a good place to see the bridge from afar. Most travelers would like to enter the Summer Palace through the North Palace Gate, East Palace Gate and the Newly-Built Palace Gate (Xinjiangongmen). The last one is the closest to Seventeen-Arch Bridge.