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 Essential Architecture-  Peking

The Ming Dynasty Tombs (World Heritage Site)


site was chosen by the third Ming Dynasty emperor Yongle (1402 - 1424)


50 kilometers due North of Beijing, China




Ming Dynasty


stone, wood


 Traditional Chinese architecture inside the Ming Tombs
 Statues inside the Ming Dynasty Tombs
 "Great Red Gate" inside the Thirteen Tombs of the Ming Dynasty (AD 1368 to 1644)
The Ming Dynasty Tombs (Míng cháo shí san líng; lit. Thirteen Tombs of the Ming Dynasty) are located some 50 kilometers due North of Beijing at an especially selected site. The site was chosen by the third Ming Dynasty emperor Yongle (1402 - 1424), who moved the Capital City of China from Nanjing to the present location of Beijing. He is credited with envisioning the layout of the ancient city of Beijing as well as a number of landmarks and monuments located therein. After the construction of the Imperial Palace (the Forbidden City) in 1420, the Yongle Emperor selected his burial site and creating his own mausoleum.

From the Yongle Emperor onwards, 13 Ming Dynasty Emperors were buried in this area. The tombs of the first two Ming Emperors are located near Nanjing (the capital city during their reigns). Emperor Jingtai was also not buried here as the Emperor Tianshun had denied Jingtai an imperial burial but was instead buried west of Beijing. The last Chongzhen Emperor who hung himself in April, 1644 was the last to be buried here, named Si Ling by the Qing emperor but on a much smaller scale than his predecessors.

During the Ming dynasty, the tombs were off limits to commoners but in 1644 Li Zicheng's army ransacked and set many of the tombs on fire before advancing and capturing Beijing in April of that year.

The site of the Ming Dynasty Imperial Tombs was carefully chosen according to Feng Shui (geomancy) principles. According to these, bad spirits and evil winds descending from the North must be deflected; therefore, an arc-shaped area at the foot of the Jundu Mountains north of Beijing was selected. This 40 square kilometer area - enclosed by the mountains in a pristine, quiet valley full of dark earth, tranquil water and other necessities as per Feng Shui - would become the necropolis of the Ming Dynasty.

The entire tomb site is surrounded by a wall, and a seven kilometer road named the "Spirit Way" leads into the complex which is one of the finest preserved pieces of 15th century Chinese art and architecture. The front gate of the complex is a large, three-arched gateway, painted red, and called the "Great Red Gate".

At present, three tombs have been excavated: Chang Ling, the Largest; Ding Ling, whose underground palace is open to the public; and Shao Ling. There have been no excavations since 1989, but plans for new archeological research and further opening of tombs have circulated.

The Ming Tombs were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in August 2003. They were listed along with other tombs under the "Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties" designation.