For almost 3.O00 years Chinese rulers have had tombs built on the outskirts of their capital. The Zhou emperors appear to be the first who adopted this practice-at last. no earlier tombs have been found–and the tradition was maintained throughout the age down to the Qing. The earlier Ming Throb, lated outside Nanjing is that of Hong Wu, the founder of the Ming Dynasty. The second Ming emperor reigned only for four years before he was overthrown by Yong Le in 1403, who then moved the capital to Beijing. During the third emperor’s reign the site for his tomb was selected outside Beijing using the Age-old method of geomancy, which take into account the disposition of wind and water (feng shui ) at the site. The foothills and mountains protect the corpse of the emperor from the evil spirits carried by the northern wind, and the lower sloping ground was ideal for the gentle flow of water before the tomb, When you visit the area you will be impressed by the beauty of the location and the tranquility of the surroundings. It is now a favorite picnic spot for foreign residents in Beijing and if you go there on a weekend you will find many families sitting on the grass under the old pine trees that dot the grounds.
The Chinese name for the area is Shi San Ling, or “the Thirteen Tombs”; 13 of the 16 Ming Emperors are buried there. Only two of the sites have been restored, and of these, only one has been excavated. Both are worth visiting, but you may not have time if you are going to the (Great Wall and the Ming Tombs the same day. If you are not pressed for time, you can visit both comfortably and even ask your guide to take you to some of the other tombs scattered in the hills. They are suffering extreme deterioration, with splintered timbers, grass growing on the roofs, tiles spilled throughout the area, statues broken, and pillars overturned. Budget travelers may want to take a local bus from Beijing to Deshengmen.
The site where the tomb buildings have been renovated and the tomb itself excavated is Ding Ling, which is the tomb of the fourteenth emperor, Wan Li (1573-1620). One site that has not been excavated but where the buildings have been renovated is the tomb of the third Ming emperor, Yong Le (1403-1424), the first emperor to be buried in the area. Both sites will be described but first details of the famous route leading to the tomb will be given.