Ming Tombs is the general name given to the mausoleums of 13 emperors of the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644), 50 kilometers northwest from Beijing City.
Changling, the tomb of Emperor Zhu Di, was originally built in 1409. This is the most magnificent of the Ming Tombs. The succeeding twelve emperors had their tombs built around Changling. Construction of the necropolis spanned more than two hundred years, almost throughout the entire Ming Dynasty: The first tomb was built in 1409, and the last one in 1644.
The area chosen as an auspicious site for the imperial burial grounds was not only beautiful of scenery, but also in an excellent position from a military perspective as the mountains provided a natural defense for the area, as well as for the capital. Changling, built by Emperor Zhu Di at the foot of Tianshou Mountain in the northern part of present Changping County, was the first imperial tomb in this area.
The layout of each mausoleum is different, but the thirteen tombs still have nearly the same general arrangements. Each mausoleum, called a "palace," is surrounded by vermilion walls. Through each "palace" gate is the Gate of Prominent Favor leading to the Hall of Prominent Favour where sacrifices were offered by emperors, empresses and officials to the deceased emperors. Of all the Ming tombs, only the Hall of Prominent Favor in Changling is still in excellent condition. The hall was constructed throughout of nanmu (a fine hard-wood). Each large supporting pillar was made of a single trunk. The pillars are so large they take three people to encircle hand in hand. This kind of large nanmu is rarely seen in China.
Behind the Hall of Prominent Favor is tomb mound within high castle-like walls, created by piling yellow earth, where the emperor and empress were buried. In front of the castle-like wails stands a small building known as Minglou (Soul Tower), containing at its center a stele inscribed with the posthumous title of the emperor. In front of the Soul Tower is a set of five glazed pottery altar pieces, consisting of two candlesticks, two beakers and an incense burner.
Only the Changling and Dingling tombs are open to the public.
Changling, the chief of the Ming Tombs, is the largest in scale and is completely preserved. Changling is the tomb of Emperor YongLe (reign 1403-1424) and empress XuShi. The dimensions of main hall here (67 x 29 meters) closely match the dimensions of the Hall of Supreme Harmony in the Forbidden City, which makes it one of the largest wooden buildings in China. Four giant wooden columns and 28 smaller pillars support this structure, This is unique as it is the only huge palace made of camphor wood.
The underground palace of Changling is not open until now.
Dingling is the mausoleum of Emperor Zhu Yijun, the thirteenth emperor who occupied the throne the longest during the Ming Dynasty, and his two empresses.
The underground palace here was unearthed between 1956 and 1958. It is divided into three Halls consisting of five high palaces - the front, the middle, the rear, the left and the right palaces. The Gate of the Tomb, the Gate of Eminent Favor and the Lingxing Gate all have the same structural form.
A golden bowl discovered in the mausoleum. The front hall, considered the square of the Palace, has no building within it. No special artifacts remain in either the left and right palaces that are about 7 meters high, six meters wide, and 26 meters long. However, each has a centrally placed white marble coffin bed, the surface of which is covered with gold bricks. On each bed there is a square hole filled with loess. This is the so-called "Gold Well". A paved path leads to the central hall where there are three white marble thrones. Incense, candles and flowers were set in front of the thrones. Before each of them, there are glazed 'Five Offerings' and a blue china jar that would have been filled with sesame oil to be used for lamps. The rear hall is the main and biggest part of the Palace. The coffins of Emperor Zhu Yijun and his two empresses are in this palace. There are also some precious items displayed with these coffins; among them is the gold imperial crown, one of the world's most rare treasures. You can find these treasures in the exhibition hall on the ground.
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