Ming Tombs lie in a broad valley to the south of Tianshou (Longevity of Heaven) Mountain in Changping County about 50 kilometers northwest from Beijing City. The name itself exactly implies what it is inside. It consists of thirteen emperor mausoleums of the Ming Dynasty from 1368 to 1644. The whole mausoleums group totally covers an area of 40 square kilometers, which had took up to more than 200 years to complete. It was really a tremendous project in that time. Ming Tombs were surrounded by hills from three sides, with Mangshan and Huyu flanked in both sides and Beijing Campagna right lies in front of it. All of the thirteen Ming mausoleums are arranged in well harmonious positions, however each one still possesses its own systems. Because of its long history, integrated and delicated upholster, it appears a high cultural and historic value. Totally to say, it has gone through the mid and later part of Qing Dynasty, the Republic of China and The Peoples Republic Of China today. But as a historic site, it had never been disturbed or changed, and the natural environment is also not broken. That means it possesses a high degree of authenticity and integrality.
The original capital of Ming Dynasty was not Beijing as today, but in the southern part of ChinaNanjing. During the third Emperor ZhuDi, he found that he had to set up a much strong bulwark on the north, so he chose Beijing as the new capital from then on. As imperial palace and temples had begun built up, the construction of tombs started about the same time.
The place where to construct tombs was not chosen randomly, but carefully chosen according to the principle of geomancy (Fengshui) to house numerous buildings of traditional architectural design and decoration.
Compared with all the ancient tombs in China, the Ming Tombs distinguish itself with three outstanding features.
Firstly, the whole building group is perfectly unitary. Although every separate mausoleum has its own rooms and way of construction, all of the tombs are connected by a shared sacred way. The shared arch, stone mass, coupled with the hierarchical order of the mausoleum burial pattern. All of which have contributed the whole impression of them.
Secondly, the construction of inner parts of the tombs possesses unique styles. Baoding, Minglou and Xiangdian are arranged along the longitudinal axis of the cemetery, which is a kind of innovation. And the scared way has adopted such zigzag way with many turns.
Thirdly, its natural environment is quite and pageantry because of its surrounding hills and waters. Each tomb was built alongside a mountain, and a river runs through the whole area. They are the best-preserved part of all Chinese imperial tombs.
Sacred Way - Shen Dao
Sacred Way, Shen Dao in Chinese, is the longest way in Chinas royal tombs with the length of 7 kilometers. It lasts from south to north across the center of the tomb area, thought to be the place where the emperors could lead their souls to enter heaven. In the beginning it was only built for the first tomb Changlingthe tomb of Emperor YongLe who considered being the most powerful emperor in the Ming Dynasty.
But as the later tombs were all built either to the left or to the right, it gradually became the main road to all the tombs. Continuing north to the Changling, the Scared Way passes over a river via two bridges of five and seven respectively. From here, all thirteen tombs can be seen; the foothills and groves of trees dotted with golden yellow roofs stretch for 19 kilometers across the sacred valley.
There are the Marble Archway, Great Palace Gate, Tablet Tower, Stone Statues and Dragonphoenix Gate lays in the central axis of the whole tomb group.
Marble Archway - ShiPaiFang
Marble Archway is the construction of the south end. It was featured with five doors, six pillars and eleven floors; and was built in 1540, JiaJing nineteen years. So far, it is the largest and earliest preserved in China. All of the pillars are engraved with relief of dragons, lions and clouds, vivid and verisimilitudinous.
Great Palace Gate - DaGongMen
The frontispiece--main entrance of Ming Tombs is the Great Palace Gate, DaGongMen in Chinese, which consists of three arches and connected to a bounding wall of 40 kilometers.
The three passageways obeyed rigorous rules:
The central gate is only for the deceased emperor.
The sides two for the living emperors who wanted to pay respects to their ancestors.
It is a strictly forbidden place with thousands of armies safeguarded and in front of the door there lays a plaque engraved, Officials and others should dismount here. Nobody could enter the gate on horseback, and anything was forbid to take out of the tombs.
Tablet Tower - BeiLou
Tablet Tower, also named as BeiLou, was built in 1435, XuanDe ten years. It is in a rectangular shape with a stele inside. It is the stele of Changling with the words Divine Merits and sagely virtues carved on it. On the front side is the epigraphy written by the eldest son of Emperor ZhuGaoZhi. Back of it is the Ai Ming Ling San Shi Yun, which recorded the broken situation of Changling, Yongling, Dingling and Siling in details. The west side is the building cost recorder and the reason why Ming Dynasty dies out was stated on the west.
Stone Statues - Shi Xiang Sheng
ShiXiangSheng can be defined as the stone human figures and stone beasts set up in front of mausoleums. In a large degree, it is a kind of symbol of the statues to the tomb owners rank station. They were considered to be able to exorcise and guard the mausoleums as well.
Atone statues of Ming Tombs line on both sides of the Scared Way. It is a group that be composed of 18 pairs, which included 24 beasts and 12 human beings. Six kinds of animals as lions, xiezhi, elephants, amels, kylins and horses, each has 4 with 2 in the position of squat and 2 standing. All of which were sculptured well.
Dragon-phoenix Gate - LingXingMen
LingXingMen, common saying as LongFengMen, means the Dragon-phoenix Gate. For the Ming Tombs here, it possesses the significance as the gate to heaven. The three passageways were connected by short walls and 6 gateposts looks like HuaBiao. It still got another name as fire torii for the stone graved fire bead on the central part of the forehead. An obvious seven holes white marble divine bridge is the must way to enter the Changling.
Although there are many mausoleums in Ming Tombs, only two of them, Changling and Dingling are open to public now. Moreover, Ming Tombs are well-known for the Changling Mausoleum with grand ground constructions, and the Dingling Mausoleum with its underground palace unearthed.
Changling is the first mausoleum on Ming Tombs and also the most magnificent part of the tombs, which covers an area of about 10 hectares with the other 12 tombs built around. It is the mausoleum of Emperor ZhuDi and Empress Xu. Changling is the biggest and most completed preserved tomb in Ming Tombs.
It was built from 1409 to 1427, on a south-facing slope. Totally speaking, the buildings are square in the front and round in the rear represent the old saying that earth was square and heaven was round. Changling made up of three courtyards, all of which are wholly surrounded by walls. The first step courtyard is from Lingmen to Enmen. On the southeast corner stands a stele with the feeling words of entering Changling engraved on the front by Emperor Shunzhi and Ming Tombs Eight Rhyme by QianLong backwards. The second courtyard extends from Enmen to Hongmen. It s the En Palace here that be considered the best Nanmu Palace nationwide. The last part stretches to Ming Lou. Ming Lou is the cross-sectional sign of each mausoleum, and the highest buildings in the central axis as well. The plaque on top is carved with Changling.
Human Sacrifice - The East and West Pits
The area Changling also concluded the east and west well, traditionally is treated as a place where the 16 imperial concubines buried alive as such kind of following objects to the Emperors. Because of its pit-like shape, people call them the east and west pits. Human are buried with the dead is a traditional manner during nearly all dynasties.
To the northeast part of Changling situated Dingling on the foot of DaYu Hill, where buried the thirteenth emperor of Ming Dynasty WanLi and his two empresses. In 1583, Emperor WanLi took the chance of paying respect to the ancestors, inspected the Mausoleum Area. There he made his final decision to build tomb here and started the project in the following years. The process lasted for more than six years with high qualities. He had ever live a kind of dissipated life in the underground palace ignoring the state affairs totally.
Discovery of Dingling
As we all know that Dingling is the only mausoleum our nation has completed discovered so far, so it always appears as a must tourist place for people both home and abroad. In May 1956, nation archeology group began to uncover its real construction from a deep channel. The tremendous project took up to 2 years to finish. Under the indication of some words written on stones and tunnels, Dingling gradually appeared its exactly position and the adamantine door with a mystery trapezoid-shaped opening, which considered to be the very entrance to the mausoleum.
Acting Stone - The Marble Door and Self
A number of stone steps lead down to the main entrance, which is a richly engraved gateway with a double-leaf marble door. Each leaf is 4 tons in weight, hinges on an axis that is carved from the same piece of marble. The lower end of the axis rests in a hole on the stone doorstep and the upper end in a hole of the bronze lintel, which weights ten tons. Each marble leaf, incredible, is thicker near the axis and tapers off toward the middle of the door. This allows one person to open and close the massive door easily. The door was ingeniously sealed on the burial scene by a stone bar, known as the "Self-acting stone." Once put in place from inside, this bolt would prevent the door from ever being opened again.
Besides the coffins and the delicated clothes the emperors and empresses wore, still there left numerous treasures. In the narrow spaces between the three sets of coffins are two pairs of vases and three boxes, which originally contained a wooden imperial seal, and wooden tablets recording the bestowal on the emperor of his posthumous title. There is also an iron helmet decorated with gold and jewels, a suit of mail, a sword, a bow, and iron-tipped arrows.
Among all the items buried with the dead, the crowns and phoenix coronets are really dazzling. Emperor Wanli's golden crown Tongti is made of gold thread, studded with two dragons playing with pearl. Among the sparkling jewelries, emperor Wanli's golden crown could be considered as rare treasure, it is mounted with many dazzling thumb-sized cat.