Ming Dynasty Tombs

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Dragon and Phoenix Gate Leading to the Ming Tombs. Photograph courtesy of Classroom Clipart (http://classroomclipart.com)
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Dragon and Phoenix Gate Leading to the Ming Tombs. Photograph courtesy of Classroom Clipart (http://classroomclipart.com)

The Ming Dynasty Tombs (明朝十三陵; pinyin: Ming2 chao2 shi2 san1 ling2) are located some 50 kilometers due North of Beijing at an especially selected site. The site was chosen by third Ming dynasty emperor Yongle (1402 - 1424), who moved the Capital City of China back from Nanjing to the present location of Beijing (thusly, it was Yongle who envisioned the layout of the entire ancient city of Beijing as well as a number of landmarks and monuments located therein).

A statue on the Spirit Way leading to the Ming Tombs near Beijing. Photograph courtesy of Classroom Clipart (http://classroomclipart.com)
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A statue on the Spirit Way leading to the Ming Tombs near Beijing. Photograph courtesy of Classroom Clipart (http://classroomclipart.com)
After establishing his Capital City and the newly built Imperial Palace of residence (the Forbidden City) in 1420 CE, the Emperor set to work on selecting his burial site and creating his own mausoleum. The Shisan Ling site was selected by Emperor Yongle and he was the first to be entombed there. Later, tombs of succeeding Ming Dynasty Emperors were also situated here, totaling 13 in all. The tombs of the first two Ming Emperors are located near Nanjing (the capital city during their reign). The last Ming Emperor Chongzhen was not included in the mausoleum following the overthrow by the Qing Dynasty in 1644 CE (Chong Zhen had hanged himself on the now famous Guilty Chinese Scholartree).

The site of the Ming Dynasty Imperial Tombs was carefully chosen according to then customary 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.

At present, three tombs have been excavated: Chang Ling, the Largest; Ding Ling, the underground palace tomb; and Shao Ling. The last one was uncovered in 1989, but plans for new archeological research and further opening of tombs have circulated.

The Ming Tombs are a Unesco World Heritage Site, and has been since August 2003. As of 2004, the entire park is undergoing large-scale renovations.

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