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Ming Tombs

The Ming Tombs (Pinyin: míng shísān ling; 明十三陵), located some 50 kilometers due north of urban Beijing, include the mausoleums of 13 emperors of the Ming dynasty after the third Ming Dynasty emperor Yongle (1402–1424) moved the capital to Beijing. It lies in the south of Yanshan Mountain Range in the Changping District of Beijing. It is the largest and best preserved tomb site, with the most emperor and empress mausoleums not only in China but the world.

A seven kilometer road named the "Spirit way/ Sacred Way " (shen dao) leads into the complex, lined with statues of guardian animals and officials, with a front gate consisting of a three-arches, painted red, and called the "Great Red Gate". The Spirit Way, or Sacred Way, starts with a huge stone memorial archway lying at the front of the area.

Currently tourists are allowed to visit the Road of Spirits, the Chang Mausoleum, the Ding Mausoleum, and the Zhao Mausoleum. The Chang Tomb is the largest and oldest of the tombs. Construction on the mausoleum began in 1409 and lasted four years. Buried here are Zhu Di, the third emperor of the Ming Dynasty, and his empress. The forecourt has three courtyards and all the halls are covered with yellow glaze tiles on their roofs. It is one of the largest wooden buildings in China and is supported by sixty unpainted poles made of nanmu.

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Dingling (Ding Tomb) is the only one excavated in this graveyard up till now. Zhu Yijun, the thirteenth emperor of the Ming Dynasty was inhumed together with his two empresses. Constructed between 1584 and 1590, this mausoleum used to have bridges, a stele pavilion, halls and towers and annexes on the ground. Hundreds of years later, only a stone tower and Bright Tower survived several fires. Visitors may enter via a tunnel.

The site selection and design of the Ming Tombs show the great attention paid to the harmony and unity between the mausoleums and the mountains, rivers, and plantations in nature. This embodies the Chinese philosophical belief of the "harmony between the universe and man". The entire tomb area forms a united whole. Except for the Si Mausoleum lying in the southwest corner, all other mausoleums line up on both sides of the Chang mausoleum in the shape of a sector. At the same time each mausoleum is an independent unit. Each of them occupies a hill and has its unique features, although their sizes are only slightly different. As a representative of the excellent architecture of ancient Chinese imperial mausoleums, the Ming Tombs show the richness of Chinese culture to the whole world.

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.

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