Located just under 50 km (31 mi) from the city of Beijing, in the Changping District and on the southern foot of the Tianshou Mountain, is a cluster of ancient Ming tombs that date as far back as the early 15th century.
Also known as the “Thirteen Tombs of Ming Dynasty” or just 13 Mausoleums, the imperial cemetery spans an astounding 120 square kilometres (46.3 sq mi), forming a must-see scenic view. The burial ground hosts thirteen Ming emperors and 23 empresses as well as several princes and princesses.
The Ming Tombs were added to UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites in August 2003 along with several other tombs. It is said to be the largest and most preserved imperial burial ground, boasting the highest number of emperors buried, and getting its fair share of tourists with millions visiting every year.
Each mausoleum is built as an independent unit, but the layout of all thirteen of them is similar. However, the structures are of different sizes and intricacy. The distance between each tomb is significant, ranging between half a kilometre and 8 km (5 mi).
Origin Of The Ming Tomb
The site for this spectacular cluster of mausoleums was selected by the 3rd Ming emperor – the Yongle Emperor. The area on the slope facing south at the base of Tianshou Mountain (formerly known as Huangtu) was ideally based on feng shui principles. Adhering to these principles, evil winds and unwanted spirits from the North had to be deflected. These constraints made the arc-shaped valley part enclosed by the Jandu mountains ideal. The environment is a pristine and quiet one.
After constructing the Imperial Palace in 1420, Yongle selected a burial site for himself, and the first mausoleum was built. The subsequent emperors went on to establish their tombs in the same valley.
During the reign of the Ming emperors, the cemetery ground was off-limits to commoners. It wasn’t until 1644 that an army led by Li Zicheng (the rebel who overthrew the Ming Dynasty) ransacked and set most of the tombs ablaze.
In 1725, however, the Yongzheng Emperor from the Qing dynasty bestowed the tomb’s hereditary title of Marquis on Zhu Zhiling, a Ming descendant. He also got a salary and his duties involved performing rituals at the burial grounds.
Highlights Of The Ming Tombs
A 7-kilometre (4 miles) road called the Spirit Way (Shen Dao), which means “the road leading to the heaven,” provides access to the complex. The path is slightly curved because the people of ancient Ming Dynasty believed it would fool evil spirits.
It is lined on either side with statues of officials, guardian animals, and mythical animals sculpted whole stones in larger-than-life sizes. Also along the way, you’ll see other intriguing sites of beauty such as the Grand Red Gate, Stone Tablet Archway, Lingxin Gate, Tablet pavilion, and Ornamental Columns.
This Tomb finished construction around 1409. Here lies Emperor Zhu Di aka Yongle (1403-1424) and his partner Xu, the third rulers from the Ming lineage. Changling is the largest and most preserved of the thirteen Ming Tombs. At the round region in the rear is the Treasury City and there are three courtyards at the front. You will not believe the magnificence of the Ling’en Palace (Grace and Blessing) located in the other yard.
The Grand Red Gate
The Da Hong Men (Grand Red Gate) is the main entrance to the valley. It was constructed in 1540 and takes a top position as the most prominent and earliest stone archway existing in China presently.
Dingling is the burial site of the Wanli Emperor (1572-1620), the 13th Ming emperor, and his two wives Xiaojing and Xiaoduanxian. It was built from 1584 to 1590 and measures 13,000 square feet. You don’t want to miss this stone Underground Palace that was discovered sometime between 1956 and 1958. The palace had quite a collection of precious relics.
At the bottom of the eastern slope of the Dayu Mountains is another masterpiece of Chinese imperial architecture – Zhaoling Tomb. Here lies the 12th Ming emperor, Emperor Zhu Zaihou, as well as his three empresses. Its highlight is the crescent-shaped housing of imperial coffins.
Other Remarkable Sites Near The Ming Tombs
Should you desire to catch a glimpse of more than just a single site on your trip, you should consider the Great Wall of China – Juyongguan, Mutianyu, and Badaling. Ming Tombs are easily accessible on your way to or from these bits of the wall.
Tips For Visiting Ming Tombs
-You may not be able to visit all the tombs because of the distance separating them. Dingling, the underground palace, is highly recommended but you must be ready to walk. There is a long walk from the Dingling Entrance to the Tomb itself, and then you go through 8 flights of stairs down. It usually takes around 15 minutes to get to the tomb although the duration may be longer during high season. If you are not very fit to walk or use a wheelchair, this is probably not your best choice.
-It is best to blend your journey with a visit to another tourist attraction. Most tourists prefer to stop by the Great Wall of China as well, mainly because the Juyongguan, Badaling, and Mutianyu are close-by.
-Public holidays and weekends are probably not the best days to visit the Ming Tombs because they can be very crowded.
-Smoking is not allowed at the Ming Tombs. It is designated as a non-smoking area, and even fires are forbidden.
-You can buy or rent some stuff at the service centre – like a wheelchair, stretcher, crutch, baby toys, baby stroller, a needle and thread, cold and hot water and nonprescription medication. The service centre also has telephone and fax services.
-Dress up in clothes that will allow you to walk with ease. But you probably know that already.
-Also, it is recommendable to do some research on ways to blend in the Asian culture with ease.