Ming Tombs

Covering 40 square kilometers in the Changping District, the 13 Ming Tombs are the cemeteries of the 13 Ming emperors, 23 empresses, and many imperial concubines, crown princes and princesses after the Ming Dynasty moved its capital city to Beijing. Among these tombs, the largest one is Changling Tomb, which was built in 1413 and is the burial place of Zhu Di, the third Ming emperor. At the Dingling Tomb, the burial place of the 13th Ming emperor, an underground palace was excavated. Visitors are allowed to see the underground palace and the two exhibition rooms above the ground to view the fabulous cultural relics buried with the dead. On July 2003, it was inscribed on the UNESCO's World Heritage List.

The Sacred Path, the passage leading to the tomb, is lined with more than 30 lifelike stone figures and horses, all sculptures based on a single huge rock. Dingling Tomb and Changling Tomb are two examples for visitors to know about these imperial tombs.

Dingling Tomb
The Dingling Tomb
is situated in the Shisanling Reservoir, surrounded by a magnificent wall. And it is the final resting place of the thirteenth Emperor Wan-li along with his two wives- Empress Wang, and another Empress Wang. Having been born in 1563, this Emperor was crowned as Prince at the early age of six. By the time he reached age 10, he had become the Emperor. He went on to rule for 48 years, making great strides for the country. 

Dingling Tomb is the only tomb of the thirteen to be excavated. Buried here are three individuals; Emperor Wan-li, and his two wives. The Emperor Wan-li was the last of the great Ming Emperors, reigning 48 years, longer than any Chinese Emperor since the Han Emperor Wu of the 2nd century B.C. Alongside him are his wife and the first concubine. 

The excavations took place from 1956 to 1958 under the direction of Dr. Hsia Nai of the Peking Institute of Archaeology. Though despoiled by vandals, the burial chambers were undisturbed. The archaeologists’ first priority was to find the door to the tomb chambers. Random digging could have collapsed the tomb chamber, so the exit door had to first be located. 

Fortunately, luck was on their side. A stele left by the original builders was discovered with the inscription “the wall is 16 meter away and 3.5 meter down”. It had been left by workers who had simply forgotten to remove it when the tomb was sealed. The archaeologists followed the instructions and discovered a door in the proper place. It was sealed with an ingenious lock that had swung into place when the doors were originally closed. The archaeologists removed it by inserting a pole between the cracks and lifting it off its hinges. 

Inside, nothing had been disturbed since the tomb was sealed in 1620. It was completely dry. An enormous variety of treasure lay in the inner rooms. The vaults were self-supporting with carefully fitted marble stonework. Adjacent to the treasure and the three bodies were “eternal lamps” to sustain the spirit of the dead, filled with oil, which had gone out soon after the doors were sealed.

Unfortunately, most of the artifacts have been removed from the inner chambers, so that there is little left to see when one visits today. Also, the underground chambers are accessible from an ugly modern staircase, which partly spoils the experience. 

The outdoor structures of the tomb are far more interesting, with beautiful views of the surrounding mountains from the Stele Tower. Though crowded with visitors, the far reaches of the circular wall are devoid of people. From here you can be alone and enjoy the natural beauty of the tomb landscape, listening to the songs of the native birds.

Changling Tomb
The Changling Tomb
is situated in the north of the Shisanling Reservoir, surrounded by a magnificent wall. Construction of his tomb began in 1409 and was completed in 1427. As you can imagine is quite impressive and it is the largest of the Ming tombs among the 13 mausoleums in the vicinity of Tianshou Mountain. 

The huge Changling Tomb is the final resting place of the third Ming Emperor-Zhu Di. He named his ruling era Yongle and was so known as Emperor Yongle. Zhu Di ruled China from 1402 to 1422. The construction of the tomb started in the seventh year of his reign and took five years to be completed.

 The layout of Changling Tomb follows the pattern of Xiaoling Tomb in Nanjing, the tomb of the first Ming Emperor. Structures proceeding along the central axis are: the Front Gate to the tomb, the Gate of Eminent Favor, the Hall of Eminent Favor, the Dragon and the Phoenix Gate, Soul Tower and the Wall-Encircled Earth Mound, of which the Hall of Eminent Favor is the most impressive and important.

The architecture in Changling is of magnificence, especially the Ling’en Hall, which is the architecture style of which is identical to that of the Supreme Harmony Hall in the Forbidden City. And the Ling’en Hall represented the highest architecture and artistic level of Ming dynasty.

To the tomb, the most notable is also for its well preserved Ling’en hall, which is made of a rare type of hardwood known as nanmu. The beams, columns and trusses are all made of nanmu too. Nanmu is a species of plant in the Lauraceae family, which is endemic to China; it is now threatened by habitat loss. The diameters of internal columns are even more than 1 meter. Nanmu columns of such a big size are rarely found all over the world. This palace has been maintained quite well up to now and it represents a typical architectural style of the Ming dynasty.

 The hall covers 1,956 square meters, nearly the same as of the Hall of Supreme Harmony in the Forbidden City, but it exceeds the latter architecturally as all the columns, beams, etc. are made of nanmu, durable high quality softwood. The 32 huge 12.58 meter-tall pillars of the hall are each made from a single nanmu tree trunk. This valuable timber came from Sichuan, Hubei, Henan and Jiangxi provinces, all thousands of kilometers away from Beijing. It is said that it took about five years just to transport these enormous tree trunks. This scale of historic project is rarely seen in other parts of the world. The hall is the largest and most magnificent structure of nanmu still existing in China. This hall has becomes the exhibition hall for the historical relics unearthed from Chang Ling.

For its indisputable charm and great historical and artistic value, Changling Tomb was inscribed into the World Heritage Organization Catalogue by UNESCO on 3rd of July, 2003.