Ming Tombs Facts

Ming Tombs locates in Changping County, about 50 kilometers northwest from the urban area of Beijing. Sitting at the foot of Mt. Yan and occupying an area of more than 120 square kilometers, it appears extremely spectacular. Ming Tombs was built in a valley surrounded by mountains in the east, west and north with beautiful sceneries of green hills and clear waters, serving as the best site with greatly beneficial Chinese Fengshui (geomantic omen). Started in 1409 with the construction of Chang Mausoleum for Zhu Di (1360-1424, Emperor Mingchengzhu, the third emperor of Ming Dynasty as well as the one who decided to built the tombs), for over 230 years, the Ming Tombs was completed in 1644 when the Emperor Chongzhen (1610-1644, the last emperor of Ming Dynasty) was buried in Si Mausoleum. The whole Ming Tombs actually a tomb cluster of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), including thirteen emperor's mausoleums, seven tombs for concubines, tow for princes and one grave for eunuchs, where altogether buried 13 emperors, 23 empresses, 2 princes, more than 30 imperial concubines and 1 eunuch of Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Being the last resting place of 13 emperors, it is also known as Thirteen Tombs. 

As the largest existing and best preserved imperial tombs, the Ming Tombs was inscribed as the important heritage site under state protection in 1961, one of the 44 important national protected scenic spots in 1982, the one of the 40 best tourist attractions of China by National Tourism Administration in 1991, and listed in the World Heritage List in 2003.

On the basis of construction time, the thirteen tombs are successively arranged as Chang Mausoleum, Xian Mausoleum, Jing Mausoleum, Yu Mausoleum, Mao Mausoleum, Tai Mausoleum, Kang Mausoleum, Yong Mausoleum, Zhao Mausoleum, Ding Mausoleum, Qing Mausoleum, De Mausoleum, and Si Mausoleum, of which the Chang Mausoleum, Ding Mausoleum and Zhao Mausoleum are open to visitors.

Each emperor's tomb was constructed at the foot of a separate small hill, but they all share a main road called the Sacred Way. The thirteen emperor's mausoleums are similar in their architectural style and overall arrangement, only differing in size and complexity of their structures. They used to have a forecourt where memorial ceremonies and sacrifices were held and a tomb mound at the back. Comparatively speaking, Changling (Chang Tomb) is the most grand, Yongling (Yong Tomb) the most delicate and Siling (Si Tomb) the smallest.

Ming Tombs Ming Dynasty

Layout of Ming Tombs

The site of the Ming Dynasty Imperial Tombs was carefully chosen according to Feng Shui (geomancy) principles. According to these, bad spirits and evil winds descending from the North must be deflected; therefore, an arc-shaped area at the foot of the Jundu Mountains north of Beijing was selected. This 40 square kilometer area — enclosed by the mountains in a pristine, quiet valley full of dark earth, tranquil water and other necessities as per Feng Shui — would become the necropolis of the Ming Dynasty.

A seven kilometer road named the “Sacred Way” leads into the tombs complex, lined with statues of guardian animals and officials, with a front gate consisting of three-arches, painted red, and called the "Great Red Gate". The Spirit Way, or Sacred Way, starts with a huge stone memorial archway lying at the front of the area. Constructed in 1540, during the Ming Dynasty, this archway is one of the biggest stone archways in China today.

Farther in, the Shengong Shengde Stele Pavilion can be seen. Inside it, there is a 50-ton tortoise shaped dragon-beast carrying a stone tablet. This was added during Qing times and was not part of the original Ming layout. Four white marble Huabiao (pillars of glory) are positioned at each corner of the stele pavilion. At the top of each pillar is a mythical beast. Then come two Pillars on each side of the road, whose surfaces are carved with the cloud design, and tops are shaped like a rounded cylinder. They are of a traditional design and were originally beacons to guide the soul of the deceased, the road leads to 18 pairs of stone statues of mythical animals, which are all sculpted from whole stones and larger than life size, leading to a three-arched gate known as the Dragon and Phoenix Gate.

At present, only three tombs are open to the public. They are-- Chang Ling, the largest;Ding Ling, whose underground palace has been excavated; And Zhao Ling .There has been no excavations since 1989, but plans for new archaeological research and further opening of tombs have circulated. 

The Ming Tombs were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in August 2003. They were listed along with other tombs under the "Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties" designation.

The Sacred Way to the Ming Tombs Beijing

The Sacred Way of Ming Tombs

The Sacred Way is a main way leading to the Ming Tombs’ inside scenic area.

The Sacred Way is the first attraction of Ming Tombs, which is a main way leading to the thirteen imperial tombs’(Ming Tombs’) inside scenic area. Constructed since 1435 as the attached annex of Ming Tombs, the Sacred Way is 7 kilometers long, and starts from the stone memorial archway and ends at the gate of the Chang Mausoleum. Consisting of the Shengde Stone Memorial Archway, the Great Red Gate, Stele Pavilion, stone sculptures and the Dragon and Phoenix Gate, along the Sacred Way, the Five-arch Bridge and many other well-arranged structures were built from south to north, presenting the magnificent splendor of the imperial power of the Ming Dynasty.

The two lines of stone lifelike sculptures of 12 beasts and 6 officials on both sides are the highlights of the Scared Way that popular with visitors. The arrangement of the stone sculptures indicates that emperors could still rule anything after death. Standing or kneeling there, these stone sculptures were made in vivid shape with delicate carvings but still well preserved today, which is rare to see among all ancient Chinese tombs.

Ming Tombs Gate Post Beijing

Chang Mausoleum (Changling )

Seated at the southern foot of the main peak of Tianshou Mountain, the Chang Mausoleum is the largest, earliest, and most magnificent with best preserved ground constructions among the 13 mausoleums. It is a multi-burial mausoleum for Zhu Di (1360-1424, Emperor Mingchengzhu, the third emperor of Ming Dynasty as well as the one who decided to built the tombs) and his empress Xu.

◎The Stele Pavilion of Chang Mausoleum

The ground construction of Chang Mausoleum occupies 120 000 square meters with the layout as square in the front part and round in the back. In the front square part, there are three successive courtyards. The first one is equipped with a mausoleum gate; in the courtyard, there are five kitchens in the left, five storerooms in the right and a stele pavilion in the front of the kitchens. Unfortunately, the kitchens and storerooms were all destroyed during Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), and only the stele pavilion was saved to date. The second courtyard is equipped with a Ling’en Gate, which was built in 1538. The stylobate of the gate is made of white marbles and on rails are engraved patterns of dragons and phoenixes. Even on the stone footsteps, there are also exquisite basso-relievo of surging seawaters, treasured hill, seahorses and two vigorous dragons. Another two side gates beside the Ling’en gate are also built and decorated with colored glaze, and the lofty Ling’en Hall is in the middle of the northern area, which serves for enshrining memorial tablets of emperors and empresses and sacrificing activities during both Ming and Qing dynasties. Today, it has been turned to be a museum exhibiting the achievements of Zhu Di in the fields of diplomacy, politics, irrigation works and astronomy.

Ming Tombs Beijing China

Ding Mausoleum (Dingling)

Seated at the foot of Dayu Mountain in the southwest of Chang Mausoleum, the Ding Mausoleum (Dingling) was built for 6 years from 1584 to 1590. It is the mausoleum for Zhu Yijun (1563-1620, the 13th emperor of Ming Dynasty) and his two empresses. It is the sole mausoleum in Ming Tombs which has been unearthed for scientific researches as well as for visiting with more than 3,000 precious unearthed articles.

◎The Underground Palace of Ding Mausoleum

Occupying about 182 000 square meters, the Ding Mausoleum is consists of Ling'en Gate, Ling'en Hall, Gate Tower, Ming Pavilion and Underground Palace. The layout of the ground construction of Ding Mausoleum is also square in the front and round in the back, reflecting the idea of "heaven is round and the earth is square" in traditional Chinese culture. In Ding Mausoleum, there are also three successive spacious courtyards in the front, and an additional tall Gate Tower in the back. In the right front of the mausoleum gate, it is a white marble bridge, after which is a large stele pavilion, surround which are over 300 annex of sacrifice temples, butcher pavilions, and so on.

The Underground Chamber of Dingling Tomb

Zhao Mausoleum (Zhaoling)

Located at eastern foot of Dayu Mountain, Zhao Mausoleum (Zhaoling) is the last resting place for Zhu Zaihou (1537-1572, the 12th emperor of Ming Dynasty) and his three empresses. At present, it is the first mausoleum that has undergone large-scale restoration. Covering 35 000 square meters, the existing intact construction in Zhao Mausoleum are Ling’en Gate, Ling’en Hall, two side halls, a square gate tower, Ming Pavilion, and a stele without inscription in the front of the Ling’en Gate.

After the fall of the Ming Dynasty, Zhao Mausoleum was ruined for two times, one was in 1644 in the flames of war, and the other was in 1695 due to the fire caused by lightning stroke. During Qing Dynasty from 1785 to 1787, the government had the Ming Tombs repair, and Zhao mausoleum was in the project. However, the repair work just referred to the Ming Pavilion, Ling’en Gate and Ling’en Hall, and the regulation of the construction had been changed slightly and the size of architectures also reduced. In the following 200 years, there is no any other maintaining, and only the ruined Ming Pavilion and the enclosure wall survived. Till in 1987, the new restoration begun, and 3 years later in 1990, almost all main constructions had been rebuilt except for the Butcher Pavilion, kitchens and storerooms (which were completed later in 1992), and opened to the public on September 1st at the same year.

The reconstructed Zhao Mausoleum is just grand and splendid in strict imperial mausoleum regulations. In addition, in some halls and pavilions, there exhibit offerings and instruments of that era, historical materials about the emperor and empresses of the mausoleum, and the imperial tombs regulations.

Other Tombs

◎Yong Mausoleum (Yongling)

Located southern foot Yang Chui Ling, it is the last resting place for Zhu Houzong (the 11th emperor of Ming Dynasty) and his three queens.

◎Xian Mausoleum (Xianling)

Located under the West Peak of Tianshou Mountain, it is the last resting place for Zhu Gaochi (the fourth emperor of Ming Dynasty) and his queen (Zhang Empress).

◎Qing Mausoleum (Qingling)

Located inside the Ming Tombs, on Huangshan Temple two Ridge Mountains, it is the last resting place for Zhu Chang Luo (the fourteenth emperor of Ming Dynasty) and his three queens.

◎Mao Mausoleum (Maoling)

Located under Jubao Mountain, it is the last resting place for Zhu Jianshen(the eighth emperor of Ming Dynasty) and his three queens.

◎Kang Mausoleum (Kangling)

Located in the eastern foot of Jinling (also known as Lotus Hill or Babao Lotus Hill), it is the last resting place for Zhu Houzhao (the tenth emperor of Ming Dynasty) and his queen (Xia Empress).

◎Jing Mausoleum (Jingling)

Located under the eastern peak of Tianshou Hill, it is the last resting place for Zhu Zhanji (the fifth emperor of Ming Dynasty) and his queen (Sun Empress).

◎Tai Mausoleum (Tailing)

Located in the south east of Beacon Hill, here called "Shijia Tai" or "Shijia Mountain", it is the last resting place for Zhu Yutang(the ninth emperor of Ming Dynasty) and his queen( Zhang Empress).

◎De Mausoleum (Deling)

Located in the western foot of Tanyuling, it is the last resting place for Zhu Youxiao (the fifteenth emperor of Ming Dynasty) and his queen (Zhang Empress).

◎Si Mausoleum (Siling)

Located in the southwest corner of the Deer Ma Hill (aka Jinping Mountain), it is the last resting place for Zhu Youjian (the last emperor of Ming Dynasty) and his queen (Zhou Empress) and his imperial concubine (Tian imperial concubine).

◎Attendant Tombs

Attendant tombs in Ming Tombs are 8, where there are seven tombs of concubines (Prince) and one tomb of a eunuch.

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