Why Ming Tombs are special
The Ming Tombs form the most extensive burial complex of any Chinese dynasty and are one of the finest preserved pieces of 15th century Chinese art and architecture. The Ming Tombs were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in August 2003 along with other tombs under the 'Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties' designation.
There were altogether 13 Ming dynasty emperors buried in a box canyon at the southern foot of Tianshou Mountain, hence the Shisan Ling in Chinese is named for the 13 tombs. Among them, the only two that opened to visitors are Ding Ling and Chang Ling.
Ming Tombs Highlights
The Grand Red Gate
The main entrance to the valley is the Da Hong Men (Grand Red Gate). Constructed in 1540, during the Ming Dynasty, this memorial archway is the earliest and biggest stone archway existing in China today.
The Sacred Way (Shen Dao), which means “the road leading to the heaven”, is not to be missed. The path, slightly curved to fool evil spirits, is lined on either side with willows and remarkable carved stone animals and human figures, considered among the best in China.
The stone statues along the Sacred Way are important decorations of the mausoleum that form a guard of honor. These statues are usually 12 human figures (including the general, civil officials and meritorious officials) and 24 animals.
The Chang Ling Tomb
Chang Ling is the largest and best preserved of the 13 Ming Tombs near Beijing. Chang Ling is the tomb of Emperor YongLe (reign 1403-1424) and empress XuShi. The layout is identical to the tomb of the first Ming emperor in Nanjing and is rather like the Forbidden City in miniature. In addition to the palace, there is an underground burial chamber.
The Ding Ling Tomb
The 13,000 square feet Underground Palace at Ding Ling, rediscovered in 1956, was the burial place of Emperor WanLi (reign 1572-1620), his wife and his favorite concubine. It is a vast marble vault, buried 27m (88 ft) underground and divided into five large chambers.