The door was heavy, thick and metal. I remember thinking how difficult it would be open it up. The steps were steep and so many of them leading you into the dark and cold chamber. Once you are in the main room the sensation that you are deep underground is overwhelming. The cold and serenity is only thing you feel. I was visiting the Dingling Tomb, the burial site of the Wanli emperor, the 13th Ming emperor who ruled for 48 years until his death in 1620. Two of his empresses are also buried here along with him. Excavation of the tomb lasted for 2 years from 1956 to 1958 and the tomb was discovered through sheer luck when archaeologists discovered a stone tablet left by the original builders. The stone tablet gave instructions on how to find the tomb – this was necessary when the tomb was re-opened for the burial of the emperor. Opening the tomb doors was also exceedingly difficult, the designers created an ingenious door locking mechanism that sealed the doors behind them.
Even 13 Ming Dynasty emperors and their consorts are scattered around valley in the alluring tombs only two are open to the visitors, Changling and Dingling. The area located 45 km from Beijing is carefully chosen by the Emperor Yongle who moved capital city from Nanjing to Beijing and build the Forbidden City and Temple of Heaven. The second Tomb open to the public is where famous Yongle emperor and his empress are buried – the Changling Tomb. This tomb was the first and largest of the Ming tombs.
The entrance to the Tombs or the Memorial Arch, was built in 1540 and is 12m-high, 31m-wide showing six complex carved arches. Continuing along the path leads to the Grand Red Gate, which was built in 1426. At this point all worshippers had to get off from their horses and carriages and walk the rest of the way. Further behind this gate is a Stele Pavilion that’s held up by four large ornate columns. Inside this pavilion stands China’s largest stele, which is carved with the names of past Ming emperors. Exquisitely carved, this stele was completed in 1435 and is held up by mythical turtles, a symbol of longevity.
Once past the pavilion is the mythical Spirit Way. The path is lined with animals and mystical beasts like the qilin with horned heads and scaly bodies, seers of wisdom and the xiezhi with lion heads and horse bodies, seers of justice. There are also four statues each of military, civilian and imperial officials, who serve the emperor in his afterlife.
There are three of the Ming emperors missing from this sacred place – the first Ming emperor lies in Nanjing, the tomb of the second emperor remains unknown as he had his throne taken by his uncle and another emperor was considered illegitimate and wasn’t given the honour of an imperial tomb.
The Ming Tombs are listed as the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Visit to the Ming Tombs can be combined with a visit to the Great Wall of China. For more information please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 020 7487 2999. Alternatively check our group and tailor made tours to China on our website www.chinaholidyas.co.uk