The first tomb, Chang Ling, is the burial plot of the emperor Yongle and noteworthy as the most impressive tomb because of its sequence of opulently-designed halls lying beyond the yellow-tiled gate. The tomb contains a recently-erected statue of the emperor Yongle as well as an abundance of impressive cedar-wood columns. The pine-covered burial knoll towards the back of the compound is yet to be excavated and is closed to the public.
Ding Ling – the third largest tomb within the complex – is the burial spot of the emperor Wanli. Also known as the Tomb of Stability, the crypt is noteworthy because it’s the only one where visitors are allowed to descend into its underground vault. Zhao Ling is the third, open-to-the-public Ming tomb; the final resting site of the 13th Ming emperor – Longqing – it follows a standard yet impressive imperial tomb design.
Despite the fact that they vary in size and architectural complexity, the Ming Dynasty Tombs are comparable in general layout. Each tomb complex starts with a stone bridge, followed by a front gate, a stele pavilion, the Gate of Eminent Favour, the Hall of Eminent Favour, a watchtower and then the Precious Hall at the rear of the oval-shaped compound.
The entryway into the Ming Dynasty Tombs begins with a seven-kilometre road called the ‘Spirit Way’ – the memorial archway at the start of the path is one of the largest stone archways in China today. Once past the Great Palace Gate, which is followed by a road flanked with twelve pairs of lifelike stone statues of armour-clad generals and legendary sacred animals, the front gate consists of three red arches called the ‘Great Red Gate’.
Beyond that is the Shengong Shengde Stele Pavilion – home to a 50-ton tortoise-shaped dragon beast toting a stone tablet. This carving is flanked by four white marble Huabiao – also known as pillars of glory – at each of the four corners of the steel pavilion.
Highlights and Features
- Chang Ling: Home to the crypt of the third Ming Dynasty emperor, Yongle and noteworthy as the most impressive tomb because of its sequence of opulently-designed halls lying beyond the yellow-tiled gate.
- Dingling: The third-largest tomb within the compound, this crypt is worth mentioning because it’s the only one where visitors are allowed to tour the vast underground palace.
- Zhao Ling: The third Ming Dynasty tomb that is open to the public, Zhao Ling is the resting place of the 13th Ming emperor, Longqing.
Good to Know and What Not to Miss
- Due to its relatively weak popularity, Zhao Ling, the third tomb, usually isn’t as crowded as the others.
- Dingling is the site of the Ming Tombs Museum.
- It’s best to combine a visit to the Ming Dynasty Tombs with a visit to the Great Wall at Badaling.
- The tombs were officially declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July, 2003.