Ming Dynasty Tombs (十三陵 定陵)

After the morning’s climb of the Mutianyu Great Wall, we headed to the Ming Dynasty Tombs (十三陵 定陵).
Scenery en route:

Even Nina said it’ll be even more beautiful if it’s snowing!

An hour later, we got to the Dingling Tomb, its ticket office to be exact:

Tickets were priced at RMB 45 (SGD 9.40), with a part of it being a postcard! 😉

The entrance to the tomb is quite a distance away from the car park:

Right at the exit of the car park is the Museum of the Ming Tombs (明十三陵博物馆) (Ming Shi San Ling Bo Wu Guan):

We entered the museum and were told to visit the tomb before the museum in order to have a better understanding of the artefacts.

This is the 重门 (Zhong Men), Tomb Gate:

Entrance to the tomb is via either side while exit is via the middle.

The Ming Dynasty Tomb is also on the UNESCO Heritage Site List and is one of the top 10 (it’s sixth) on the UNESCO Heritage Sites in China.

Situated at the foot of Tianshou Mountains of Changping District, Beijing, the Ming Tombs is the cemetery of the 13 Emperors of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Covering an area of 80 square kilometres, it is about 50 kilometres away from Beijing city proper.

Construction of the Ming Tombs started in 1409 and ended in 1644, when the Ming Dynasty collapsed. It took 200 plus years to build the Ming Tombs from beginning to end. 13 imperial tombs, 7 concubines’ tombs and an eunuch’s tomb are scattered in the valley.

The Ming Tombs is relatively well conserved compared to other Chinese imperial tombs. It boasts of high historic and cultural values due to its grand architecture, complete system and long history. To conserve the cultural heritage, the central government has restores and maintained the Ming Tombs since the founding of the People’s Republic of China. The Ming Tombs was promulgated by Beijing Municipal Government as one of the first batch of key ancient architecture and cultural heritage site under state conservation in 1957. It was listed as a key cultural heritage site under state conservation in 1961. The Ming Tombs area was announced as a national key scenic spot by the State Council in 1982. It was evaluated as one of the best 40 scenic spots in China by National Tourism Administration in 1991. The Ming Tombs was evaluated as “imperial cemetery intactly-conserved with the most number of Emperors buried in the world” (世界上保存完整埋葬皇帝最多的墓葬群) (Shi Jie Shang Bao Cun Wan Zheng Mai Zang Huang Di Zui Duo De Mu Zang Qun) by selection and evaluation committee of “World Top on Beijing Tourism” (北京旅游世界之最) (Bei Jing Lü You Shi Jie Zhi Zui) in 1992. It was evaluated as an AAAA scenic spot by National Tourism Administration in 2001. The Ming Tombs was inscribed into the catalogue of World Heritage in the 27th session of World Heritage Organisation of UNESCO on July 3rd, 2003.

Located at the eastern foot of the 大峪山 (Da Yu Shan), Dayu Mountains, 定陵 (Ding Ling), Dingling, is the joint burial tomb of the 13th Ming Emperor 朱翊钧 (Zhu Yi Jun) and his two Empresses. Zhu Yijun (1563 – 1620), whose reign title was “万历” (Wan Li) and posthumous title was “神宗” (Shen Zong), ascended the throne at the age of 10 and ruled for 48 years until he died at the age of 58. It is also the first imperial tomb excavated in a scientific way with the approval of the State Council in China.

It took six years to build 定陵 (Ding Ling), construction of which started in November 1584 and ended in June 1590. 定陵 (Ding Ling) covers an area of 180,000 square metres. It was built with choice materials and in large scale. Although more than 400 years have lapsed since their completion, the Soul Tower, Baocheng and Tomb Gate still stand intact today.

The Underground Palace of Dingling is the only one of the Ming Tombs excavated so far. With the approval of State Council, the trial excavation started in May 1956 and was finished one year later. With a total floor space of 1,195 square metres, the Underground Palace is composed of five stone chambers: the front chamber, middle chamber, rear chamber, and the left and right annex chambers. More than 3,000 pieces of cultural relics were unearthed from Dingling, including a gold crown and a phoenix coronet. The relics have provided a rich variety of materials and scientific based for the study of politics, economy and culture of the Ming Dynasty. In 1959, Dingling museum was set up at the original site and was opened to the public.

These are the flight of stairs of 祾恩殿遗址 (Ling En Dian Yi Zhi), Ruins of Ling’en Hall:

Stone carving of phoenix and dragon:

This is 祾恩殿遗址 (Ling En Dian Yi Zhi), Ruins of Ling’en Hall:

Ling’en Hall was built in the 14th year of Wanli (1586). It was the place to hold sacrificial ceremonies and to enshrine and worship the memorial tablets, hats and clothes of the dead. It was originally built in a grand scale: 7-bay wide and 5-bay deep, with double eaves, looking magnificent.

In the 17th year of Chongzhen (1644), it was burned by the peasants uprising troops led by Li Zicheng. Later, Duo Ergun, Prince Rui of the Qing Dynasty broke through the Shanhaiguan Pass and demolished it. During the 50th and 52nd years of Emperor Qianlong’s reign, it was reconstructed in a much smaller scale: 5-bay wide and 3-bay deep.

This is 棂星门 (Ling Xing Men),Lingxing Gate:

Lingxing Gate, with the tops of the pillars in it rising up into the sky, symbolises the dignity of the imperial system in an ancient building, just like “天门” (Tian Men), Heavenly Gate of the Celestial Palace (同天宫 / Tong Tian Gong).

This is 石五供 (Shi Wu Gong), Five Stone Sacrificial Vessels (with Soul Tower, red structure, in the background):

As symbolic sacrificial instruments, an incense burner, two candlesticks and two vases are placed on the sacrificial altar. These decorative articles are designed to create a commemorative atmosphere at the tomb.

Walking on, we saw 隧道门 (Sui Dao Men), Tunnel Gate, and 砖隧道 (Zhuan Sui Dao), Brick Tunnel:

Situated beneath 宝城墙 (Bao Cheng Qiang), Wall of Baocheng, on the right of 明楼 (Ming Lou), Soul Tower, the tunnel gate was discovered because parts of the lateral bricks collapsed. Archaeologists thus dug the first exploration ditch at the corresponding position in Baocheng, discovering the brick tunnel and the stone slab with the inscriptions, “隧道门” (Sui Dao Men), Tunnel Gate, inside the wall.

After that, another two exploration ditches were dug. The stone slab with 16 characters engraved on it – “此石至金刚墙前皮十六丈、深三丈五尺” (Ci Shi Zhi Jin Gang Qiang Qian Pi Shi Liu Zhang, Shen San Zhang Wu Chi), which means, “16 ‘zhang’ further and 3.5 ‘zhang’ deep into the Diamond Wall” (1 ‘zhang’ equals 3.33 metres) – and the stone tunnel built with porphyry were discovered in succession.

Finally, the Diamond Wall (金刚墙 / Jin Gang Qiang) was found at the end of the stone tunnel.

En route to the Underground Palace, we saw 鹿角柏 (Lu Jiao Bai), Deer Horn Cypresses:

There is an ancient saying, “。。。弃之荒野,不封不树” (…Qi Zhi Huang Ye, Bu Feng Bu Shu), which translates to “Deserting him in the wilderness without earth or trees” and mean giving no prominence to someone after he’s dead. However, for the Emperor’s tomb, it must be sealed with earth and lined with trees to show their status.

The Deer Horn Cypresses in Dingling Tomb are also known as “帝王柏” (Di Wang Bai), Imperial Cypresses. Their ages are tested to be far older than the construction era of the tomb – obviously, they were transplanted here when the tomb was built. Their shapes and symmetry make them the finest among trees. Standing in the north and the south of the grand tomb mound in Dingling, the two unique cypresses fully indicate the prominent position of the ancient Emperors.

Walking on, we got to the entrance of 玄宫 (Xuan Gong), Underground Palace, where a security check was carried out.

How deep we’ll be going to get to 玄宫 (Xuan Gong), Underground Palace:

It took two years to build the Underground Palace – from the 12th year of Wanli (1584) to the 14th year of Wanli (1586).

Its layout is similar to that of the Imperial Palace of the Ming Dynasty, consisting of five halls – front hall, middle hall, rear hall, left and right halls.

The roofs are in the shape of two intersecting arcs. There are exquisitely carved stone gates between the chambers. The coffins of the Emperor and Empresses as well as funerary objects are placed in the rear hall. In front of the front hall, there is a brick tunnel for the burial of the Emperor and Empresses.

During the excavations in 1956 and 1957, the brick tunnel was partially cleared but the exposed part is still available to visitors.

Outside the left and right halls, there are stone slabs carved with “左道” (Zuo Dao), Left Passage, and “右道” (You Dao), Right Passage, but they were not excavated.

After walking down lots of flights of steps, we finally got to the tomb!

This is the 左室 (Zuo Shi) or 左配殿 (Zuo Pei Dian), Left Hall/Chamber:

It lies to the left of the Middle Hall/Chamber (中室 / Zhong Shi or 中殿 / Zhong Dian), is symmetric to the Right Hall/Chamber (右室 / You Shi or 右殿 / You Dian) and has the same layout at that of the Right Hall/Chamber.

In the centre of the coffin platform is a square hole named “金井” (Jin Jing), Golden Well:
When the Underground Palace was opened, nothing was found in this hall; the Diamond Wall (the sealing wall leading to the Underground Palace) showed no sign of being pulled down or tampered with.

The Emperor’s Throne:

Stone door to 后殿 (Hou Dian), Rear Chamber:

后殿 (Hou Dian), Rear Hall/Chamber:

The Rear Hall/Chamber is the main hall/chamber of the Underground Palace. On the coffin bed are the coffins of Emperor and Empresses. The coffin of the Emperor was in the middle and those of the Empresses on both sides. Jade materials were found between the coffins. The burial articles for the Emperor and Empresses were kept in 26 楠木 (Nan Mu), a type of hardy wood, cases on the sides of each coffin.

When the Undergound Palace wasopened, Empress Xiaojing’s coffin and the majority of the funerary objects had already decayed; here on display are replicas of the original ones.

From left to right, 李靖后 (Li Jing Hou), Empress Xiaojing’s coffin; 万历帝 (Wan Li Di) [born 朱翊钧 (Zhu Yi Jun)], Emperor Wanli’s coffin; 李端后 (Li Duan Hou), Empress Xiaoduan’s coffin:

The Empress’ Thrones

This is 前室石门 (Qian Shi Shi Men), Stone Gate of the Front Hall/Chamber:

The stone gate inside the Front Hall/Chamber is similar to those in the Middle Hall/Chamber and the Rear Hall/Chamber. The door is designed delicately – the door slab is thicker at the hinges (40cm) but tapers off towards the middle (20cm) and the bottom of pivots is hemispherical. This relieves pressure on the pivots and the door is easy to open due to the reduced friction on the bottom of the pivots.

The arch over the gateway is carved of white marble with hip roof:

Before the Underground Palace was opened, the stone gate was shut from behind with a stone slab which bears ink-writing, “玄宫七座门自来石俱未验” (Xuan Gong Qi Zuo Men Zi Lai Shi Ju Wei Yan) which translates to “The self-acting stones of seven gates in the Underground Palace are not yet tested”.

To open the gate, the archaeologists fitted in a wire through the 4cm-wide gap between the two door slabs, turned it around to hold the stone block and then pushed back the door with a plank, hence opening the stone gate.

This is 金刚墙 (Jin Gang Qiang), Diamond Wall:

It is a common name of ancient underground wall. This wall is at the end of the stone tunnel. The foundation of the wall is four layers of stone slabs and the wall was built with 56 layers of bricks with yellow glazed tiles at the top.

There were openings with the shapes of the Chinese character “圭” (Gui), directly translated to mean Jade Tablet, at the places of the wall that face the centre line of the Underground Palace.

When the Emperors and Empresses were buried, their coffins were carried through these openings. After the burial was completed, the openings were sealed with bricks and the tunnels were blocked.

At the time of the excavation, the brick wall at the openings was slightly leaning inward due to hundreds of years of blocking. The archaeologists pulled down the bricks and entered the tunnel of the Underground Palace.

Found on the ceiling when exiting the Underground Palace:

This is “指路碑” 出土处 (Zhi Lu Bei Chu Tu Chu), The Unearthed Place of the “Guiding Slab”:

It was here that a stone slab was found in September 1956 when the Underground Palace was excavated, on which the inscription reads, “此石至金刚墙前皮十六丈、深三丈五尺” (Ci Shi Zhi Jin Gang Qiang Qian Pi Shi Liu Zhang, Shen San Zhang Wu Chi), which means, “16 ‘zhang’ further and 3.5 ‘zhang’ deep into the Diamond Wall” (1 ‘zhang’ equals 3.33 metres). Guided by the inscription on the stone slab, the archaeologists finally found the Dianmond Wall – entrance to the Underground Palace.

Therefore, the stone slab was named “指路碑” (Zhi Lu Bei), Guiding Slab, which is displayed at the First Exhibition Room (第一展览室).

This is “明楼” (Ming Lou), Soul Tower (back):

Built in 1587, the 15th year of Wanli reign period, the Soul Tower is the symbol of the Tomb. The pattern and materials are similar to those of 永陵 (Yong Ling). It is an architecture with hipped gable roof and brick arches inside. All the components, such as corbel brackets, tie-beams and eave-rafters are made of stone, with coloured paintings on the surface. Thus, it looks exactly like a wooden structure.

Inside the tower stands a stele (号碑 / Hao Bei) (back):

Front of stele (号碑 / Hao Bei) which bears the inscription, “神宗显皇帝之陵” (Shen Zong Xian Huang Di Zhi Ling), Mausoleum of Emperor Shenzong of Great Ming:

View from Soul Tower, with 石五供 (Shi Wu Gong), Five Stone Sacrificial Vessels clearly in sight:

Side view of the Soul Tower:

We then went on to the Second Exhibition Room (第二展览室) next:

We somehow missed the First Exhibition Room (第一展览室), which is directly opposite the Second Exhibition Room (第二展览室)… 😦

Exhibits in the Second Exhibition Room (第二展览室):

金器 (Jin Qi), Gold Wares:

There were 289 pieces of gold wares unearthed in Dingling. Most of them were wares for everyday used in the imperial palace. They fall into 25 categories, including basins, plates, wine cups, kettles and jars. These gold wares are of high craftsmanship.

玉带 (Yu Dai), Jade belt:

Ten Jade belts were unearthed from Dingling. Most of them were made of the best white tallow jade and green jade.

玉佩 (Yu Pei), Jade pendants:

Jade pendants were unreplaceable ornaments of imperial crowns and robes in the ancient times. A pendant was linked with jade jeweleries of different size. The pendants were attached to the left and right of one’s belt. They let out clear and crisp sound when walking to demonstrate the magnanimousness and elegance of Emperors and Empresses. Unearth in Dingling were seven sets of 14 pieces of pendants, which are white in colour, vivid and varied in designs.

四合如意云纹地织金妆花十团龙绸袍料 (Si He Ru Yi Yun Wen Di Zhi Jin Zhuang Hua Shi Tuan Long Chou Pao Liao), Cut material for a robe of green brocade in silk with then spheric patterns of dragons woven with gold threads against a background of clouds (replica):

织金缠枝莲妆花纱“灵仙祝寿”补方领女夹衣 (Zhi Jin Chan Zhi Lian Zhuang Hua Sha “Ling Xian Zhu Shou” Bu Fang Ling Nü Jia Yi), Women’s lined jacket of brocade with gold thread in green gauze with patterns of winding flowers and embroidered square patches meaning “longevity” and a square neckband (replica):

The original was unearthed from the Empress Xiaojing’s coffin. The patch on the front is embroidered with two rabbits holding lucid ganodermas (灵芝 / Ling Zhi) in their mouths. Each ganoderma supports a character, “寿”, which means longevity, on the top. On each side of the patch is decorated with a rising dragon playing with a pearl. The upper part of the dragon’s head is embroidered with a character, “万”, meaning ten thousand.

金锭 (Jin Ding), Gold ingots and 银锭 (Yin Ding), Silver ingots:

There were 103 gold ingots unearthed. The bigger ones, weighing 10 taels each, have words inscribed on them or labels attached to them. The smaller ones, weighing two to three taels each, have no inscription nor labels.

There were 65 silver ingots unearthed, weighting 50 taels, 30 taels, 20 taels or 10 taels.

锡冥器 (Xi Ming Qi), Tin burial objects:

Miniatures of utensils used by the emperor and his consorts, when they were alive, were made of copper or tin. All such objects were labelled with inscriptions in ink to indicate their names. These burial objects are important materials for studying the forms and standards of the utensils used in the Ming Dynasty Imperial Court.

木偶 (Mu Ou), Wooden figurines used to be one of the burial objects in ancient times:

The figurines are usually made of wood, pottery or carved stone. Unearthed from Dingling were all wooden figurines in the shapes of humans and horses.

黄串枝葫芦地织金妆花龙云肩通袖龙襕缎袍料 (Huang Chuan Zhi Hu Lu Di Zhi Jin Zhuang Hua Long Yun Jian Tong Xiu Long Lan Duan Pao Liao), a whole piece of silk robe material with clouds and dragon designs in gold thread on the yellow background of gourds strung with rattan:

The trees intrigued us…

They seem to be supporting each other…

And this tree is just…


This is 外罗城遗址 (Wai Luo Cheng Yi Zhi), Site of External Wall:

Among the 13 imperial tombs of the Ming Dynasty, only the Yongling and Dingling have an external wall:

The architectural system of the external wall of Dingling is an imitation of that of Yongling, the tomb of the grandfather of Emperor Shenzong (朱翊钧 (Zhu Yi Jun), whose reign title was “万历” (Wan Li) and posthumous title was “神宗” (Shen Zong)), constructed during the reign of Emperor Jiajing. According to historical records, the wall was very thick, laid with hard stone and exquisite brick carvings.

Only the site of the wall remains today.

Finally, it was time to visit the Museum of the Ming Tombs (明十三陵博物馆) (Ming Shi San Ling Bo Wu Guan):

As we didn’t have time, we did not go to 神道 (Shen Dao), Sacred Way, and so could only view the pictures in the Museum:






明十三陵管建年代、墓主、地理位置表 (Ming Shi San Ling Guan Jian Nian Dai, Mu Zhu, Di Li Wei Zhi Biao), Construction Year and Location of the Ming Tombs as well as Emperors and Empresses buried there:


Model of 明十三陵 (Ming Shi San Ling), Ming Tombs, Scale of 1:2000:

The building of the their tombs was considered the most important want of showing reverence for the emperors, so great attention was paid to the selection of the site, planning the layout and preparing of materials for the construction of the tombs:

In order to find an auspicious place, geomancers were invited by officials from the Board of Rites and other imperial departments to make a careful investigation of the topography of suitable areas and sketches were made for the emperor to look at and make a decision:

Thousands upon thousands of peasants, artisans and soldiers were conscripted to carry out the construction of the tombs, which was overseen by a small army of officials, mostly distinguished ministers and ministers of the Board of Rites and Board of Works.

定陵出土金锭 (Ding Lin Chu Tu Jin Ding), Gold ingots:

凤冠 (Feng Guan), Phoenix Crown (front):

凤冠 (Feng Guan), Phoenix Crown (side):

Phoenix crown is the ritual hat worn by the empress in ceremonies, such as conferring title of Empress, visiting the ancestral temple, or receiving ministers and emissaries, etc. At the beginning of Ming Dynasty, it is regulated that Empress’ ritual hat should be a crown with 9 dragons and 4 phoenixes. However, the phoenix crowns unearthed from Dingling are 12 dragons and 9 phoenixes hate, 9 dragons and 9 phoenixes hat, 6 dragon and 3 phoenixes hat and 3 dragons and 2 phoenixes hat, reflecting the change in the Emperor’s and Empress’ clothing system in the middle and late period of the Ming Dynasty.

定陵出土乌纱翼善冠 (Ding Ling Chu Tu Wu Sha Yi Shan Guan), Gold Headdress with black chiffon head support unearthed from Dingling (front):

定陵出土乌纱翼善冠 (Ding Ling Chu Tu Wu Sha Yi Shan Guan), Gold Headdress with black chiffon head support unearthed from Dingling (side):

定陵出土冕 (Ding Ling Chu Tu Mian), Crown unearthed from Dingling (front):

定陵出土冕 (Ding Ling Chu Tu Mian), Crown unearthed from Dingling (side):

We saw a picture of how the thrones for the Emperor and Empresses were originally placed:

Instead of being 3 in a row, they were actually placed facing each other in the middle hall of the Underground Palace!

We’d been noticing this structure on ancient architectures since our visit to Forbidden City yesterday, 长陵祾恩殿台基螭首 (Chang Ling Ling En Dian Ti Ji Chi Shou), Hornless Dragon (Chi Shou) on the stylobate of Ling En Hall of Changling:

Were they spouts where rainwater flowed out from?

石牌坊夹柱石“双狮滚绣球”石雕图案 (Shi Pai Fang Xia Zhu Shi “Shuang Shi Gun Xiu Qiu” Shi Diao Tu An), Carved design of two lions playing with a ball on the pillars of the strong decorated gateway (replica):

长陵陵官原貌 (Chang Ling Ling Guan Yuan Mao), Original state of Chang Ling mausoleum, Scale of 1:500:

《明史 后妃传》 关于 “朝天女户” 的记载 (Ming Shi Hou Fei Zhuan Guan Yu “Chao Tian Nü Hu” De Ji Zai), Record of the families of concubines buried alive in the Ming History, Biography of Consorts:

Hmmm… We asked Nina about this but she said no one’s been buried alive… Looks like we should do some googling and see what we can find!

织金寿字龙云肩通袖龙襕妆花缎衬褶袍 (Zhi Jin Shou Zi Long Yun Jian Tong Xiu Long Lan Zhuang Hua Duan Chen Zhe Pao), Emperor’s Robes:

The original satin robe was unearthed from Emperor Wanli’s coffin. It’s woven with 18 colourful dragons, 540 crowned cranes, 540 lucid ganoderma and 1045 gold-weaving characters of “寿”, Longevity.

定陵出土玉佩 (Ding Ling Chu Tu Yu Pei), Jade pendant unearthed from Ding Ling:

定陵出土镶珠宝金带饰 (Ding Ling Chu Tu Rang Zhu Bao Jin Dai Shi), Gold Filigree broach with precious stones unearthed from Ding Ling:

For a perspective of its size:

For a perspective of its size:

A stele at the exit:

After our early afternoon at Ming Dynasty Tombs (十三陵 定陵), Nina drove us to our next destination – Beijing Olympic Park (北京奥林匹克公园).

P.S. We found a World Heritage Centre Nomination Documentation of the Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties for any of our readers keen to find out more. 😉


2 thoughts on “Ming Dynasty Tombs (十三陵 定陵)

  1. Pingback: Beijing Day 2 (Updated) | Hu's Married!

  2. Pingback: Beijing Olympic Park (北京奥林匹克公园) | Hu's Married!

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