About Ming Tombs
The Ming Tombs were established by the third Ming emperor, Yongle, in the 15th century and house the mausoleums of 13 emperors of the Ming Dynasty.
History of the Ming Tombs
The first Ming tombs were built outside the original Ming capital, Nanjing. However, the majority of the tombs are centred around Beijing, north-west of the city centre on the slopes of Tianshou Mountain. The Yongle Emperor chose this site based on principles of feng shui, and his mausoleum was created shortly after the construction of the Imperial Palace and Forbidden City.
The tombs were off-limits to commoners, and even today, only 3 of the tombs are open to the public. The 7km avenue down the centre is known as the Sacred Way and is seen as the ‘Walk to Heaven’, which is apt as the emperors themselves were known as the ‘sons of heaven’.
The avenue is marked with 36 huge stone statues- 24 human, 12 animal, with 18 on each side. The sculptures were transported by human labour only, and are mammoth – their designs are intricate and the carvings are second to none.
The Ming Tombs today
Three of the Ming Tombs are open to the public. Emperor Yongle’s tomb, known as Chang Ling, is perhaps the most remarkable of the three, with its ornate interiors and impressive architecture. However, it is the Ding Ling tomb which is the only one to have been excavated and the only Ming Tomb in which visitors can enter the underground vault.
The Ding Ling tomb is the final resting place of emperor Wanli, the longest serving Ming emperor, often blamed for the fall of the dynasty. Unfortunately, most of the artefacts and original pieces in the Ding Ling tomb have been destroyed, but visiting the tomb is an interesting experience in itself.
The final tomb, known as Zhao Ling, is the mausoleum of the emperor Longqing, the 13th Ming emperor.
Getting to the Ming Tombs
The Ming Tombs are in north west Beijin – it’s about an hour’s drive from the city centre allowing for traffic. Otherwise, various bus routes stop in the Changping district.