The splendid Ding Ling (Ling means tomb) is the mausoleum of the 13th emperor of the Ming Dynasty, Zhu Yijun. He was known as Emperor Wanli (much experience) after the self-proclaimed name of his ruling period. He ruled his great empire for 48 years, the longest reign in his dynasty. Historical documents reveal that the total cost for the tomb amazingly reached over 8 million taels (300 tonnes) of silver, which was approximately equivalent to the entire tax income for two years of then government. Ding Ling is only the third largest tomb after Chang Ling and Yong Ling. Its exquisite decorations, however, enormously surpass the other two. Most of the structure above the ground has disappeared except the Soul Tower. It is a magnificent building wholly made of stone and bricks, which may explains why it survived the centuries.
So far, Ding Ling is the only one that has been opened for archeological exploration. The underground palace is 27 meters deep with a total floor space of 1,195 square meters. It consists of five chambers: the antechamber, the central chamber, the rear chamber and two annex chambers on both sides of the central chamber. All of these chambers were built of stone without using a single beam or column. The rear chamber is the largest and most important one in the underground palace. It is 30 meters long, 9.5 meters high and 9 meters wide, and contains three coffins (the largest one in the middle was for the emperor and the smaller ones for the empresses). Besides the coffins, there are also 26 red-lacquered wooden boxes containing 3, 000 or so precious funeral objects. Of the unearthed items, a gold crown and a phoenix crown are the most amazing. The gold crown was woven with very fine gold filaments and has two dragons playing with a pearl on the top. The beautiful phoenix crown was worn by the empress only at grand ceremonies or special occasions. One crown was inlaid with over 5, 000 pearls of different sizes and more than 100 valuable gems. Today tourists can see these precious antiques in the exhibition halls of Ding Ling.
Zhao Ling is the ninth tomb of the 13, and contains the 12th emperor and his 3 empresses and concubines. What makes Zhao Ling stand out is its above ground architecture, which is the best preserved and a typical layout of the Ming imperial tombs.
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I updated this article on April 16, 2014
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