Off the beaten tourist path in Beijing are the Ming Dynasty Tombs. The tombs have such a fascinating history, but also a dark part of ancient Chinese history as we were about to discover on this winter’s day on our overland travel from Hong Kong to the Netherlands.
The Ming tombs are a collection of mausoleums built by the emperors of the Ming dynasty of China. The first Ming emperor’s tomb, Emperor Hongwu, is located near his capital Nanjing. Nanjing was the southern capital of Ancient China. It was the third Ming emperor, Emperor Yongle, who relocated the imperial capital from Nanjing to Beijing in 1424.
Most of the Ming tombs are in a cluster near Beijing, and collectively known as the Thirteen Tombs of the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644). Since 1420, when the Emperor Yongle built his tomb here, the succeeding twelve emperors had their resting places built around Changling during the next 230 years, covering a total area of over 40 square kilometres.
Ming tombs are located 42 kilometers or 26 miles northwest of Beijing’s city center in suburban Changping District of Beijing. The site, on the southern slope of Tianshou Mountain, was chosen by Emperor Yongle.
According to UNESCO World Heritage website: “The Ming and Qing imperial tombs are in topographical settings carefully chosen according to principles of Fengshui and comprise numerous buildings of traditional architectural design and decoration. The tombs and buildings are laid out according to Chinese hierarchical rules and incorporate sacred ways lined with stone monuments and sculptures designed to accommodate ongoing royal ceremonies as well as the passage of the spirits of the dead. They illustrate the great importance attached by the Ming and Qing rulers over five centuries to the building of imposing mausolea, reflecting not only the general belief in an afterlife but also an affirmation of authority.”
Presently, the Ming Tombs are one of the components of the World Heritage Site, the Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. It includes several other locations near Beijing and in Nanjing, Hebei, Hubei, Liaoning province. The Ming Tombs were added into UNESCO World Heritage listed sites in August 2003.
The Chinese Ming Dynasty lasted for 276 years (1368 – 1644 AD) and has been described as “one of the greatest eras of orderly government and social stability in human history.” This dynasty became a global superpower, yet while this dynasty was praised for its stability and innovation there was a darker more gruesome underbelly.
At the time, as we were told some of the information by our guide, we thought we were hearing it wrong, but now I have time to research and understand its cultural significance.
To understand the dark part of history of these tombs you need to walk down the Changling Scared Way to the Changling Tomb. The Scared Way means the road leading to heaven. The Emperor, known as the Son of the Heaven, who came from Heaven to his country through the Sacred Way, would return to Heaven through this road.
All along the Way from south to north, you will see several sites of interest and beauty, including the Stone Tablet Archway, Great Red Gate, Tablet Pavilion, Ornamental Columns, Stone Figures, Lingxin Gate.
Walking along the Sacred Way to the end, you can see the Changling Tomb built in 1420, where lies the third Emperor of Ming Dynasty, Emperor Yongle and his Empress Xu.
Approaching the Changling Tomb, you will first see the tomb’s gate called the Alhambresque gate with its three red doors, which take you into the first courtyard. The gate to the second courtyard is named Blessing and Grace Gate or Ling’en Gate. It is impressive to see this beautiful gate. Once you go thru the gate, I saw these magnificent stone carvings. On further research the lower part of the carved picture is a surging sea, in which mountains stand and two sea horses are leaping out; in the upper part, two vigorous dragons are flying up and down, chasing fire beads. The workmanship blew me away, so beautiful in yet such a sad place.
Once you are in the second courtyard, you will see the main building of the Changling Tomb, the Blessing and Grace Palace, or also known as Ling’en Palace. This place was used for making sacrifices to Emperor Zhu Di and Empress Xu. This palace really deserves a visit for its uniqueness. It is the only preserved tomb palace from the Ming Dynasty and the only huge palace made of camphor wood. It is the one of oldest wooden structure of ancient China. You stand this beautiful place and wander about this history. After seeing the lifeline bronze statue of Emperor Yongle sitting on his throne decorated with dragons, you feel overwhelmed by the beauty of this place, but my eyes went straight to the ceiling. I had got so used to looking at the ceilings in Asia once you walk into these beautiful ancient buildings.
It is this palace, that all of Emperor Yongle achievements are discussed. He was responsible for bringing the ancient Chinese capital from Nanjing to Beijing in 1424. He also had the Forbidden Place and these tombs built. The palace also holds beautiful items of silk, jewellery and clothing of the Dangling tomb, the third largest of the Ming Tombs. It is the tomb of the Emperor Wanli, his empress consort and the mother of the Taichang Emperor, only Ming tomb to have been excavated. It was selected as a trial site in preparation for the excavation of Changling. Excavation completed in 1957 and a museum was established in 1959.
Once you go leave the palace, you come into the final courtyard, you can see the two stone gate called Lingxing Gate. This courtyard is the most beautiful of all. It is surrounded by trees. The trees were just losing their autumn colours that day. There is another archway and silk burning pots in this courtyard. Once you go thru the final gate you are coming into the back site of the Tomb called Treasure City. We were asked not to take photos out of respect for the deceased, but it is basically an enclosed circular castle with high walls and trees. It is here the Emperor and his wife were laid to rest, but no one has any idea where…
That is a story of the next time on the following blog.
|COSTS||CNY 45 pp||CNY 35 pp|
We did with a tour operator from our Novotel hotel in Central Beijing for CNY800 for 2 pp for the day including Great Wall of China and tea ceremony.
See this episode our YouTube Traveller’s NEST overland channel: