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The 13 Ming Tombs — All the Info and How Best to See Them

The Ming Tombs are also known as the 'Thirteen Tombs'. It is where 13 out of the 16 emperors of the Ming Dynasty were buried, together with their wives and concubines.

The Ming Tombs were listed by UNESCO as World Cultural Heritage in 2003. The tombs' location and structure are classic representations of Chinese Fengshui theory.

Visiting the Ming Tombs offers you insights into Ming Dynasty imperial life (1368–1644), including stone thrones, huge human and animal sculptures, and other evidence of Chinese culture and traditions.

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The Location of the Ming Tombs

The bird's eye view of Changling Tomb

The Ming Dynasty was founded in Nanjing in 1368. In 1406, the capital was moved from Nanjing to Beijing by the third Ming emperor Zhu Di.

The construction of the first tomb (Changling Tomb) was started in 1409 by emperor Zhu Di. Why did he build his mausoleum 50 kilometers (31 miles) northwest of Beijing city, at the foot of Tianshou Mountain?...

Firstly, the construction of the mausoleum required a large area of land and there was not enough space in the city (or nearby).

Imperial-era Chinese people believe that there is another life after death. The emperor was the richest and most powerful man who lived in the biggest and the most beautiful house in China during his life. He wanted this glory to be continued after death. As the mausoleum was considered to be his grand palace in the afterlife, its location and construction were paid a great deal of attention.

Secondly, Emperor Zhu Di believed in Chinese fengshui (geomancy) very deeply. So, the site was selected according to geomantic traditions. It is enclosed by mountains on three sides, in a quiet valley, where a river flows nearby. According to fengshui theory, the Ming Tobs site is in harmony with nature, according to the Taoist pursuit of a perfect realm of 'Nature and Man as One'.

Since Zhu Di's time, the site was appointed as the imperial mausoleum area, and the succeeding twelve emperors of the Ming Dynasty had their tombs built there during the following 230 years.

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The Layout of Ming Tombs

Chang Ling ('Forever Tomb') was the first tomb built in the Ming Tombs complex. The subsequent 12 tombs stretch out on the two sides of Chang Tomb and the main avenue. Except for Si Ling ('Thinking Tomb'), which sits separately in the southwest corner, the distances of the tombs from Chang Ling show their age/sequence .

The surrounding mountains enclose the mausoleum in a large natural "courtyard", with the main "gateway" being the gap between two mountains. All the tombs share an avenue running through the middle of the whole area. The avenue is known as the Sacred Way.

The layout of the Ming Tombs is the result of a combination of patriarchal rites and geomancy.

List of the Thirteen Ming Tombs

There were 16 emperors of the Ming dynasty. 13 were interred in the Ming Tombs, Zhu Yuanzhang (the first Ming emperor) was entombed in Nanjing, and the other two in unknown locations.

Tomb Ming Emperor Title (Name)
Chang Ling 3rd Yongle (Zhu Di)
Xian Ling 4th Hongxi (Zhu Gaozhi)
Jing Ling 5th Xuande (Zhu Zhanji)
Yu Ling 6th Zhengtong (Zhu Qizhen)
Mao Ling 8th Chenghu (Zhu Jianshen)
Tai Ling 9th Hongzhi (Zhu Youtang)
Kang Ling 10th Zhengde (Zhu Houzhao)
Yong Ling 11th Jiajing (Zhu Houcong)
Zhao Ling 12th Longqing (Zhu Zaihou)
Ding Ling 13th Taichang (Zhu Yijun)
Qing Ling 14th Wanli (Zhu Changluo)
De Ling 15th Tianqi (Zhu Youjiao)
Si Ling 16th Chongzhen (Zhu Youjian)

Ming Emperors Not in the 13 Ming Tombs

Ming Xiao Ling Mausoleum in Nanjing
  • Zhu Yuanzhang (Hongwu Emperor), the first Ming emperor, reigned from 1368 to 1398. He was the founder of the Ming Dynasty, and Nanjing was set up as the capital during his reign. He was entombed in Nanjing in Ming Xiao Ling Mausoleum.
  • Zhu Yunwen (Jianwen Emperor), the second Ming emperor, reigned from 1398 to 1402. He was overthrown by Zhu Di in an imperial court struggle. After which his whereabouts are unknown.
  • Zhu Qiyu (Jingtai Emperor), the seventh Ming emperor, reigned from 1449 to 1457. Due to a fight for the throne against his brother Zhu Qizhen, after his death, he was denied the honor of being buried at the Ming Tombs site with his predecessors. He was instead buried well away from that locale in the hills west of Beijing.

Only Three Tombs Are Open to the Public

Lots of buildings in the Ming Tombs complex are in disrepair due to their age. For the protection of relics and visitors' safety, only the repaired tombs are open to the public at present: Chang Ling, Ding Ling, and Zhao Ling.

Chang Ling (Tomb of the Yongle Emperor)

The Hall of Eminent Favor in Changling Tomb

Chang Ling ('Forever Tomb') is the only tomb in the complex that has been unearthed for scientific research and over 3,000 precious relics have been unearthed.

It is the final resting place of the third Ming Emperor Zhu Di and his Empress Xu. He ruled China from 1402 to 1422. Changling Tomb is the largest of the Ming Tombs.

Structures proceeding along the central axis are:

  • The Front Gate to the tomb is an elaborate gate: the rafters and arch of which are made of colored glaze.
  • The Gate of Eminent Favor
  • The Hall of Eminent Favor (also known as Ling'en Palace): The main building in Chang Ling, it contains the memorial tablets of the tomb owner, displaying the tomb owner's clothes, 'god bed', throne, and other personal items, as well as an area for holding sacrificial ceremonies. 
  • Ling Xing Archway: Two dragons were carved on the top of the archway. It represents the gateway to heaven.
  • Soul Tower and the Wall-Encircled Earth Mound: They form a closed circular fortification. Emperor Zhu Di and Empress Xu were buried inside its walls.

Ding Ling (Tomb of the Wanli Emperor)

The underground palace of Dingling Tomb

Ding Ling ('Stability Tomb') is the mausoleum of the 13th emperor of the Ming Dynasty, Zhu Yijun, and his two empresses. 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 the government.

Around 3,000 precious funeral objects were forged. The gold crown and the phoenix crown are the most amazing items. They were handmade from expensive materials, such as gold filaments, pearls, and gems.

The highlight is the stone Underground Palace. It consists of five chambers. All of these chambers were built of stone without using a single beam or column.

  • The front chamber: This chamber is empty.
  • The middle chamber: The 'ever-burning lamp' was placed there. Two aisles on the left and right sides connect to the annex chambers.
  • The rear chamber: It is the largest chamber where the coffins of Emperor Zhu Yijun and his two empresses reside.
  • Two annex chambers on the sides of the central chamber: Both chambers are the same size. There was a white marble bed in the middle of each chamber.

Zhao Ling (Tomb of the Longqing Emperor)

The Soul Tower of Zhaoling Tomb

Zhao Ling ('Brightly-lit Tomb') is the tomb of 12th Ming Emperor Zhu Zaihou and his three empresses/concubines. The imperial coffins are in a unique crescent-shaped area.

What makes Zhao Ling stand out is its above-ground architecture, which is the best-preserved and a special yard in a crescent shape housing the imperial coffins.

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The Scared Way

The Scared Way

The name "Sacred Way" literally means 'a walk to heaven'. According to Chinese history, an emperor descended from heaven and returned through the walkway (after death). Emperors were referred to as the sons of Heaven.

The walkway starts at a stone memorial archway and ends at the gate of Chang Ling mausoleum. You can walk along the Sacred Way bisecting the tomb area and enjoy a variety of features including the Great Red Gate, Shengde Stone Memorial Archway, and the Stele Pavilion. Other main attractions include the Dragon and Phoenix Gate and the Five-Arch Bridge.

The features, together with the huge stone sculptures alongside the Sacred Way remind us of the great power of the Ming Dynasty. Their reverence for celestial order means that all features were neatly arranged from South to North (heaven was thought to be located due north in the Pole Star).

Recommended Touring Route for Visiting the Ming Tombs

Normally, it would take a full day to see the all parts of the Ming Tombs that are open. However, most tourists visit the tombs as part of a Great Wall day trip. A typical tour first visits the nearby Great Wall at Badaling.

Here is the recommended tour route: Badaling Great Wall → Ming Emperors Wax Museum → Sacred Way → Ding Ling → Chang Ling. (It takes around 10 minutes by car from Ding Ling to Chang Ling.)

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Ming Tombs Opening Hours and Entry Tickets

Tickets are sold from the entrance at any time up to about 30 minutes before the site closes. Admission fees and opening times for each of the three tombs accessible to the public vary depend on the season:

  • The Sacred Way:

Apr.–Oct.: CN¥30, Nov.–Mar.: CN¥20; open 8:30am–6pm

  • Chang Ling:

Apr.–Oct.: CN¥45, Nov.–Mar.: CN¥30; open 8:30am–5:30pm

  • Ding Ling:

Apr.–Oct.: CN¥60, Nov.–Mar.: CN¥40; open 8:30am–6pm

  • Zhao Ling:

Apr.–Oct.: CN¥30, Nov.–Mar.: CN¥20; open 8:30am–5:30pm

How to Get to the Ming Tombs from Beijing

Please be advised that the Ming Tombs are 50 kilometers (30 miles) northwest of central Beijing, so the best way of accessing the Ming Tombs is with a China Highlights private tour. We can take you directly to the Ming Tombs, or you could arrange with us to visit other places too, such as the Great Wall.

Touring the Ming Tombs with China Highlights

We can take you directly to the Ming Tombs, or you can arrange with us to visit other places, such as the Great Wall, in addition to the Ming Tombs.

We usually take customers down the Sacred Way and then our guide will walk you through the tombs you want to visit. With our extensive experience, we can advise you on the best tomb(s) for you to visit.

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