Emperor Yongle designed and built a stunning mausoleum destined to inter his remains in a site personally chosen by him to incorporate the principles of Feng Shui, in order to imbue the site with auspicious energies. Following his interment, twelve subsequent Ming Dynasty emperors chose to have their remains interred in the area as well. At present, the Ming Tombs enjoy the distinction of forming part of the World Heritage collection, Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties, whose scope also includes other sites in Beijing and other parts of the country.
Utilising the concepts of Feng Shui geomancy, the tombs are shielded from the proliferation of evil spirits descending from the north and they enjoy a measure of protection being ensconced in an arc-shaped area situated at the foot of the Jundu Mountains located north of Beijing. A tranquil area spanning approximately 40 kilometres, it is encased by the shadowed crags of the mountains within an immaculate valley filled with sable earth, subdued waters and other aspects of Feng Shui practice to make it the perfect necropolis of the Ming Dynasty.
One has to tread the impressive expanse of the “Spirit Way” in order to gain access into this sombre complex and one has to pass through an ominous stone memorial archway first, before coming onto the path lined with statues of grim animal guardians and grave official figures. Visitors will then encounter the “Great Red Gate”, a tri-arched rubicund entryway that serves as an imposing threshold granting passage into another realm – the realm of the dead.
Traverse a ways within and you will come across a Qing Dynasty addition in the form of the Shengong Shengde Stele Pavilion, with each of its four corners decorated by four Huabio pillars of white marble. Atop each pillar sits a mythical beast rendered in frozen contemplation. Still further down the pathway, you will encounter stunning life-sized stone statues of eighteen mythical animals aligned in pairs and sculpted from whole stone blocks. Pass these bleak beings and walk on until you meet an impressive tri-arched gate, titled the Dragon and Phoenix Gate.
At the moment, only three tombs out of the original thirteen are open for public viewing, since none of the others have been excavated. The Ding Ling Tomb is the only tomb that has been excavated in its entirety thus far and has revealed a tomb that was still intact, as well as a treasure trove of thousands of Ming items, which include textiles, silks, porcelain and wood. The tombs were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003.
The country’s tumultuous political history meant that many of these items, including the remains of a Wanli emperor and his empresses, were burned or otherwise destroyed. This disastrous event has stalled subsequent attempts to excavate any of the other tombs, but they are visible on Google Earth, which afford stunning views of Chang Ling, the largest tomb; Ding Ling, whose palace has been excavated; and Zhao Ling.
Savour the cultural import of the Ming Dynasty tombs as well as the other iconic sites dotting the capital city of Beijing, more easily done when you choose to base your stay at the array of luxury serviced apartments in Beijing such as those featured at the Ascott Beijing. With a central location that provides ample access to transport, the cultural attractions of the city and its surrounds will be mere minutes away from this stellar example of Beijing accommodation.
Pushpitha Wijesinghe is an experienced independent freelance writer. He specializes in providing a wide variety of content and articles related to the travel hospitality industry.