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Ming Tombs

An Introduction to Ming Tombs

The Ming Tombs lie in Changping County, about 50 kilometers from the northwest of Beijing, is enclosed by mountains in three sides. The imperial cemetery covers an area of 120 square kilometers with 13 Ming emperors, 23 empresses and a number of concubines, princes, and princesses buried there, and thus it is also called 13 Mausoleums. These tombs are the best preserved Chinese imperial tombs and have been nominated by the UNESCO as the world cultural heritages. The site of the Ming Dynasty Imperial Tombs was carefully chosen according to Fengshui (geomancy) belief.

The first tomb, Chang Ling, or Tomb of Chang, began to be built by the third emperor of the Ming Dynasty in the seventh year of his reign (1409 AD) before the main peak of Tian Shou (literally, heavenly longevity)Mountain. (The first emperor of Ming Dynasty was buried in Najing).   In chronological order for the following 200 years, Xiang Ling(Ling means great tomb in Chinese), Jing Ling, Yu Ling, Mao Ling, Zong Ling, Kang Ling, Yong Ling, Zhao Ling, Ding Ling, Qing Ling and De Ling were built and spread on both sides of the Chang Ling. All these tombs share a same Sacred Way that crosses the middle of the tomb zone. The last tomb, for Emperor Chongzhen, Zhu Youjian, lying in the southwest of the zone, was actually built out of a tomb originally intended for a concubine. 

Several decades after the death of the last Ming emperor, Emperor Shunzhi of the Qing Dynasty gave the last Ming Tomb the tile and added the architecture on the ground. Besides the emperor's tombs scatters lots of smaller tombs for concubines and a eunuch. 

Because of its long history, palatial and integrated architecture, the site has a high cultural and historic value. The layout and arrangement of all thirteen mausoleums are very similar but vary in size as well as in the complexity of their structures. 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. Nowadays, the Sacred Way, Changling (Chang Tomb), Dingling (Ding Tomb) and Zhaoling (Zhao Tomb) are accessible to visitors.

The Sacred Way is seven kilometers (4.3 miles) long and leads to Changling (Chang Tomb) directly. Chang Tomb is the largest and oldest of the tombs. Construction on the mausoleum began in 1409 and lasted four years. Buried here are Zhu Di, the third emperor of the Ming Dynasty, and his empress. The forecourt has three courtyards and all the halls are covered with yellow glaze tiles on their roofs. The second yard was built after the Hall of Supreme Harmony of the Forbidden City. It is one of the largest wooden buildings in China and is supported by sixty unpainted poles made of nanmu. Unearthed objects are on display in this hall. Behind is a tower called Ming Lou (Bright Tower), the symbol of Chang Tomb. It connects the burial mound, the circumference of which reaches approximately one kilometer (0.6 mile).

Changling, the chief of the Ming Tombs, is the largest in scale and is completely preserved. It is the head tomb of the thirtten Ming Tombs, and it is also the best-preserved one in the tomb area. Changling is located at the foot of the Heavenly Longevity Hill. Construction of Changling started in 1409. It took 18 years and was completed in 1427. The layout of Changling just followed the example of Xiaoling in Nanjing. Structures along the central axis are the Front Gate to the tomb, the Gate of Eminent Favor, the Hall of Eminent Favor, the Dragon and Phoenix Gate, Soul Tower and the wall-encircled Earth Mound.

Zhaoling (Zhao Tomb) lies to the southwest of Ding Tomb, built in 1538. It is the mausoleum of Zhu Zaihou (the twelfth emperor of the Ming Dynasty and his three empresses. It is the best representation of a tomb complex because of its fully restored complete surface structures, consisting of four bridges, a stele pavilion and halls. At Ling'endian (Hall of Eminent Favor), offerings and information on this emperor and his empresses may be seen.

Dingling (Ding Tomb) is the only one excavated in this graveyard up till now. Zhu Yijun, the thirteenth emperor of the Ming Dynasty was inhumed together with his two empresses. Constructed between 1584 and 1590, this mausoleum used to have bridges, a stele pavilion, halls and towers and annexes on the ground. Hundreds of years later, only a stone tower, Bright Tower, survives following several fires. Behind the tower is the underground palace, 27 meters (88.6 feet) in depth. Visitors may enter via a tunnel. The stone palace occupies an area of 1,195 square meters (0.3 acre) and has five halls. Gates of the main halls are made of white marble, with fine thrones in the central hall, coffins and burial chests at the rear hall. Some precious articles excavated are on exhibition like crowns, ornaments, and utensils.

The Grand Mansion is not only gallant and splendid, but also does not have a piece of wood and a nail. The rafters, brackets and inscribed board of the upper and lower caves are all inlaid with white stone sculptures and painted with colorful pictures which look like wood structure.

The Underground Palace Halls, a labyrinth palace building, were the first royal tomb excavated in accordance with plan in China. The labyrinth palace building consists of 5 underground halls, i.e. front, middle, back, left and right halls, with the total area 1195 square kilometers. There are seven stone gates in the five halls. The stone gates of the front, middle and back halls were most finely done with sculptured white marble. Every stone gate has two leaves, each of which is 3.3 m high and 1.8 m broad and weighs about 4 tons. On every facade of leaf, 81 nipples like nails and decorative beast head holding knocker in the mouth are sculptured. The back hall, the biggest one in the underground palace, is also called labyrinth room, which is the main part of the Underground Palace. It is 9.5 m high, 9.1 m broad and 30.1 m long, paved with polished piebald stones. On the front of the coffin platform, inner and outer coffins are laid with the Emperor Zhuyijun in the middle and two Queens, Xiaoduan and Xiaojing on two sides respectively.

Exhibition Room: The excavated articles of Dingling are 3000 odd in total which include a great number of gold, silver, jade, China wares. Textiles, crowns, belts and ornaments of emperor and queens, tin wares, posthumous title books and posthumous treasures etc.

Gold Crown: It was made of extremely thin gold threads, on which two dragons playing with pearl are inlaid, a skilful master piece with vivid posture. It is the first discovery among excavated articles in China.

Phoenix Crowns: Four Phoenix Crowns were excavated, on each of which 5 thousand odd pearls and thousand odd precious stones have been inlaid. Phenix Crown was worn by queen on ceremonial occasions.

Dragon Gown: It was worn by Emperor Zhuyijun on grand ceremonial occasions, on which 12 dragon designs were embroidered.

Hundred Son Clothes: were worn by Queen Xiaojing, on which double dragon longevity character was embroidered. All around the clothes, designs of pine, bamboo, plum, stone, peach, pear, banana, ganoderma, glossy and different flowers and grasses and picture of hundred sons were embroidered, vivid and lively, remarkably true to life    


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