On the outskirts of Beijing, in the Changping district, before reaching the Great Wall, there is a beautiful valley protected by not very high mountains. There is a river within the valley which flows into a lake recently built. This location consistent with Chinese Feng Shui, with a mountain on the northern side and a river on the southern one, is what made the Ming emperors choose it as the ideal place to build their tombs.
Most of the tombs of the different Chinese dynasties are found within similar valleys and contrary with what happened to their palaces, which were destroyed immediately by the following dynasties, in most cases their tombs were respected by dynasties that also took as a rule ancestor worshiping.
The first Ming emperor to have been buried there was Yongle, the third emperor of the dynasty, who transferred the capital city from Nanjing to Beijing. This explains why there is a Ming tomb in Nanjing: the first Ming emperor.
There is a wonderful view from these hills on the shore of the lake, as among the luxuriant vegetation, full of peach trees and other fragrant trees, some scattered constructions stand out: they are the tombs proper.
There are thirteen tombs where thirteen Ming emperors are buried. The Sacred Path is at the entrance, which is emperor Hongxi’s nine-meter high gravestone placed on a turtle with a long path consisting of twelve pairs of royal and mythical animal sculptures from the 16th century made out of marble as well as six pairs of civil servant, soldier, civilian and learned people sculptures ending in the Dragon and Phoenix Gate. Every single sculpture is a work of art and as a whole it oozes a solemn calm typical of other funeral sites.
For the time being, only two tombs are open to the public. Emperor Wanli’s tomb, known as Dingling Tomb, which is the one actually excavated. Even so, you are only able to visit the funeral chamber which is empty as the objects that were found in it are in another tomb. Another tomb is emperor Yongle’s, called Changling, which has a small museum with imperial funeral objects.