The resting place for 13 of the 16 Ming-dynasty (1368–1644) emperors, this is China’s finest example of imperial funerary architecture. The site was selected because of its auspicious feng shui alignment; a ridge of mountains to the north cradles the tombs on three sides, protecting the dead from the evil spirits carried on the north wind. The tombs are spread over 15 square miles (40 sq km). Three (Chang Ling, Ding Ling, and Zhao Ling) have been restored and are always busy. Unrestored, the rest are open but quiet.

  • 30 miles (45 km) NW of Beijing

  • 6076 1422

  • Bus 345 to Changping Dongguan, then bus 314 to the tombs

  • Open: Apr–Oct 8am–5pm (Ding Ling to 5:30pm) daily. Nov–Mar 8:30am–4:30pm (Ding Ling to 5pm)

  • Admission: Spirit Way ¥30. Chang Ling ¥45 (¥30 off-peak). Ding Ling ¥65 (¥45 off-peak). Zhao Ling ¥30 (¥20 off-peak)


The Ming dynasty

The 276-year Ming (“brilliant”) dynasty rule was one of the longest and most stable periods in Chinese history. The founder of the Ming rose from humble beginnings via military successes to become emperor. He was succeeded by his grandson, who, in turn was succeeded by his son, who proclaimed himself emperor Yongle (“Eternal Joy”). It was Yongle who moved the capital from Nanjing to Beijing where he created a new city.

There are snack kiosks at the site.

The Ming Tombs are most conveniently seen as part of a trip to the Great Wall at Badaling. Many hotels will arrange tours. The government operated Tour Bus 2 leaves regularly for the tombs and the Great Wall from just east of Qian Men on Tian’an Men Square every day from 6:30am onwards; the fare is ¥50 per person.

Top 10 Features
  1. Memorial Arch

    Marking the entrance to the site is a magnificent five-arched gate, built of white marble, and erected in 1540. At 40 ft (12 m) high and more than 92 ft (28 m) wide, it is the largest of its kind in China, and boasts beautiful bas-relief carvings.

  2. Stele Pavilion

    After the Memorial Arch the road passes through the Great Palace Gate and the tunnel-like arch of the Stele Pavilion. Here the largest stele in China projects from the shell of a giant bixi (dragon-tortoise) and bears the names of the emperors buried at the site.

  3. Spirit Way

    Part of the 4-mile (7-km) approach to the tombs, the Spirit Way is lined with 18 pairs of giant guardians – stone statues of court officials, imperial warriors, animals, and mythical Chinese beasts.

  4. Chang Ling Tomb

    The resting place of the Yongle emperor, the builder of the Forbidden City and Temple of Heaven, is the oldest and grandest tomb. It has been well restored, but the chamber where Yongle, his wife, and 16 concubines are buried has never been excavated.

  5. Hall of Eminent Favor

    One of China’s most impressive surviving Ming buildings, this double-eaved sacrificial hall is the centerpiece of the Chang Ling tomb complex. It stands on a triple-tiered marble terrace and 32 gigantic cedar columns support the roof.

  6. Ding Ling Treasures

    In addition to an impressive statue of the Yongle emperor, the Hall of Eminent Favor also contains artifacts from the Wanli emperor’s tomb (the Ding Ling). These include a crown of golden wire topped by two dragons.

  7. Spirit Tower

    Rising up from the third courtyard of the Chang Ling complex, the tower marks the entrance to the burial chamber. This takes the form of an earthen tumulus girdled by a wall half a mile (1 km) in circumference.

  8. Ding Ling Tomb

    This is the tomb of the longest-reigning Ming ruler, the emperor Wanli (1573–1620). His profligate rule began the downfall of the dynasty. Building his tomb involved 30,000 workers and took six years to complete.

  9. Ding Ling Burial Chamber

    This is the only burial chamber to be excavated and opened to the public. Visitors descend to a central throne room and a rear annex with three red-lacquer coffins, belonging to Wanli and his two wives.

  10. Zhao Ling Tomb

    The resting place of the 13th Ming emperor, Longqing (1537–72), who gained the throne at the age of 30 and died six years later. It has an attractive triple-bridge over a stream.

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