Changling Tomb, built the earliest among the 13 Ming Mausoleums, is the largest and most magnificent as well as the best-preserved one.The Ming tombs are a collection of imperial mausoleums built by the Chinese Ming dynasty emperors. The first Ming emperor’s tomb is which is near Nanjing. However, the majority of the Ming tombs are located in a cluster near Beijing and collectively known as the Thirteen Tombs of the Ming Dynasty. They are within the suburban Changping District of Beijing municipality 42 kilometers north-northwest of Beijing city center.
The site, on the southern slope of Tianshou Mountain (originally Huangtu Mountain), was chosen based on the principles of feng shui by the third Ming dynasty emperor Yongle (1402–1424). It was he who relocated the capital of China from Nanjing to its present location in Beijing. He is credited with envisioning the layout of Ming dynasty Beijing as well as a number of other landmarks and monuments located therein. After the construction of the Imperial Palace (Forbidden City) in 1420, the Yongle Emperor selected his burial site and created his own mausoleum. The subsequent emperors placed their tombs in the same valley.
From the Yongle Emperor onwards, 13 Ming dynasty emperors were buried in the same area. The Xiaoling tomb of the first Ming Emperor, Hongwu, is located near his capital Nanjing; the second emperor, Jianwen was overthrown by Yongle and disappeared, without a known tomb. The “temporary” Emperor Jingtai was also not buried here, as the Emperor Tianshun had denied him an imperial burial; instead, Jingtai was buried west of Beijing. The last Ming emperor buried at the location was Chongzhen, who committed suicide by hanging (on 25 April 1644), was buried in his concubine Consort Tian’s tomb, which was later declared as an imperial mausoleum Si Ling by the emperor of the short-lived Shun dynasty Li Zicheng, with a much smaller scale compared to the other imperial mausoleums built for Ming Emperors.
During the Ming dynasty the tombs were off limits to commoners, but in 1644 Li Zicheng’s army ransacked and set many of the tombs on fire before advancing and capturing Beijing in April of that year.
Presently, the Ming Tombs are designated as one of the components of the World Heritage Site, the Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties, which also includes a number of other locations near Beijing and in Liaoning province.
Though varying in size and architectural complexity, these tombs are similar in general layout: each takes an oblong shape with a round or oval Precious Hall at the rear. Each tomb complex starts with a stone bridge, followed by a front gate, a stele pavilion, the Gate of Eminent Favor, the Hall of Eminent Favor, a watchtower and then the Precious Hall. The layout of these Ming Tombs produced a far-reaching impact on the construction of the Eastern Tombs and Western Tombs of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Construction of the Ming tombs started in 1409 and ended with the fall of the Ming Dynasty in 1644. In over 200 years, tombs were built over an area of 40 square kilometers, with walls encircling the entire locale.
Among the 13 Ming tombs, the Changling Tomb was the first and largest one built in the area. Its owner, Emperor Zhu Di, is well-known in Chinese history for moving the capital from Nanjing, now the capital of east China’s Jiangsu Province, to Beijing. Completed in 1427, this complex took 29 years to complete. Exquisitely built, this tomb features one of the largest halls in China. Huge columns and architecture along the same lines as the grandiose Forbidden City allow the above ground portions of this tomb to cast the emperor ‘s long shadow even in death.
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.