The Ming Tombs

Another of China's ancient treasures, one that may not be so well known as others, the Ming Tombs (Shisanling) lie in the Changping District about 50 kilometers north of Beijing. This Imperial necropolis holds the remains of 13 of the 16 Ming Dynasty (1368-1664) Emperors, 23 empresses, and various concubines, princes and princesses. It is one of the largest, best preserved and most impressive ancient burial grounds in the world and has been added to the world heritage list.

Originally in 1409, the third Emperor of the Ming Dynasty Zhu Di (Yongle Emperor 1402-1424), who also built the Forbidden City and Temple of Heaven, gave the order to build his own mausoleum, Changling, here. After his death, all the succeeding Ming Emperors bar one were buried in their own mausoleums around the same area.

Chosen using the principles of Feng Shui, the site is located in an arc shaped basin at the foot of the Jundu Mountains and more specifically Tianshou Mountain (Longevity of Heaven). A huge 40 square kilometers in size, the area surrounded by the mountains is peaceful, full of beautiful forest, rivers and good earth which are all part of the Feng Shui harmony between man and nature.

Before you reach the site, you pass under a beautifully carved, five arched white marble archway built in 1540 that is 29m wide and 16m high. The entrance to the tombs is through the Great Red Gate, a large, painted red, three arched gate. From here, no one was allowed to ride a horse out of respect for the dead. A 7 kilometer long road called the Sacred Way gives you an idea of the sheer size of the complex. It leads to Changling and is lined by 18 pairs of huge stone carvings of humans and animals including lions, elephants and camels.

Changling is the largest and most impressive tomb containing Zhu Di and his wife, Empress Wu. Built in similar style to the Forbidden City, it took 18 years to complete and includes the Hall of Eminent Favours, now an artefact museum. The other tombs are built similarly on a smaller scale and the only others open to visitors is Dingling, the Wanli Emperor's tomb and Zhaoling. Dingling is the only tomb where the underground halls have been excavated. It is a magnificently built complex and contains many treasures as the gold Imperial Crown.

Due to the vast size of the grounds most people only see two tombs but they are worth it to see a perfect example of some ancient tradition and culture.